Wednesday, March 8, 1:00-2:30

CBIS Auditorium

Environmental and Health Risk Assessment in Historical Perspective

Soraya Boudia is Professor of Sociology at University of Paris Descartes, member of the Center for research in medicine, science, health, mental health, and society (Cermes), and member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for Research and Innovation in Society (Ifris). With Nathalie Jas, Boudia edited Toxicants, Health and Regulation since 1945 (London, Pickering and Chatto, 2013) and Powerless Science? The Making of the Toxic World in the Twentieth Century (New York and Oxford, Berghahn Books, 2014).

For the last forty years, risk has been pervasive in the management of scientific, technological and health hazards. How did risk analysis, as a framework for science-based decision-making, become a generic tool of government? How have its typical categories and procedures -- which emerged in the United States in the 1970s and 1980s and were formalized in a series of expert reports, including the well-known “Risk Assessment in the Federal Government: Managing the Process”, or Red Book, of the National Research Council -- come to be used for such a wide spectrum of health and environmental issues (from nuclear technology to nanotechnologies, passing by food additives, industrial chemicals or genetically modified plants), in a diversity of national and transnational institutional contexts, up to this day? I will address this question by mapping the places, actors, issues, institutional framings and dynamics which led to the identification, in terms of risk, of a heterogeneous set of problems, and to the management of a large number of health environmental activities by risk assessment. I will show that the rapid development and proliferation of risk techniques is not simply a process of generalization; it goes hand in hand with the creation of new concepts, tools and devices which are broadening the significance of risk and changing the political rationality in play.