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Unintended Consequences and Risk(y) Thinking: The Shaping of Consequences and Responsibilities in Relation to Environmental Disasters

Rolf Lidskog () and Daniel Sjödin ()
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Rolf Lidskog: Environmental Sociology Section, School of Humanities, Educational and Social Sciences, Örebro University, SE-701 82 Örebro, Sweden
Daniel Sjödin: Environmental Sociology Section, School of Humanities, Educational and Social Sciences, Örebro University, SE-701 82 Örebro, Sweden

Sustainability, 2018, vol. 10, issue 8, 1-16

Abstract: Unintended consequences have long been central for the social sciences. But, the development of risk analysis and the adoption of risk language have substantial implications for how to understand and evaluate unintended consequences. Claims can now be raised that unintended consequences should have been foreseen and other options chosen. This situation constitutes the starting point for this paper, which develops an understanding of unintended consequences, in particular, in relation to environmental disasters. It draws on Robert Merton’s classic work on unanticipated consequences, but refines and further develops it by fertilizing it with findings from risk sociology and framing theory. A particular case of a human-caused disaster, a severe wildfire, is analyzed to illustrate and expand the understanding of unintended consequences. The empirical material consists of a postal survey to everyone directly affected by the wildfire ( N = 960 individuals). The empirical results of this analysis are then explained and used to improve the understanding of unintended consequences, by showing how the context and framing of the disaster heavily affected the evaluation of its consequences, including unintended ones.

Keywords: environmental disaster; forest fires; responsibilization; risk; unintended consequences (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: Q Q0 Q2 Q3 Q5 Q56 O13 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2018
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