Integrating competing conceptions of risk: A call for future direction of research

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The goal of this paper is to propose a theoretical framework that integrates between what has been traditionally presented in the risk literature as two opposing perspectives: the positivist-probabilistic and the contextualist. Acknowledging the differences between the two, we argue that a reconciliation of both could deepen and expand our understanding of risk, enlarge the scope and utilization of research methodologies, and bridge the gap between lay people's and experts' conceptions of risk. This line of thinking reflects a dialectical approach in suggesting integration ('synthesis'), while acknowledging the existence of differences and oppositions ('antitheses'). In 1986, Bruner's conceptualization of two irreducible, and at the same time, possibly integrated modes of thought can serve as a promising direction for researching risk. We further suggest how this line of thinking can be integrated utilizing the mixed-method design in the study of risk. We claim that the positivist-probabilistic and contextualist perspectives represent two different approaches to understanding and studying risk, and that any attempt to reduce or ignore one at the expense of the other would result in a limited understanding of the phenomenon.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)865-877
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Risk Research
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 2009


  • Competing conceptions
  • Contextualist
  • Integration
  • Probabilistic
  • Risk

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Safety, Risk, Reliability and Quality
  • Social Sciences (all)
  • Engineering (all)
  • Strategy and Management


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