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Managing the Chemical Risks of Consumer Goods: Two Roles and Challenges of Civil Society Organisations

  • Emelie Stenborg
Publiceringsår: 2010
Språk: Engelska
Dokumenttyp: Konferensbidrag


To manage risks in Western society is increasingly seen as a process of including the public in different deliberative and/or participatory projects. This is sometimes done via civil society organisations (CSOs) that also have a second role as gatekeepers, managing or constraining flows of knowledge and information.

This paper aims to analyse the dual role of CSOs in the management of chemical risks of consumer goods. If these CSOs represent user groups, how is this done? How is the gatekeeper role fulfilled? The discussion is anchored in theories on civil society addressing the first question, while work on risk communication and perception addresses the second. Empirically, semi-structured interviews have been conducted with CSOs and state agencies in Sweden.

Certain risks are of a character that makes widespread public participation difficult. One example is the chemical contents of consumer goods where the amount of chemicals in use, the global nature of the risks, and the lack of efficient risk assessment are factors that make it difficult to mobilise ‘ordinary citizens’ to participate. Instead, public participation is mainly ensured by CSOs, such as interest organisations or labour unions.

Nevertheless, the ‘ordinary citizens’, are the receivers of risk information concerning the chemical contents of their consumer goods from industry, authorities, NGOs, and the media. However, the public is rarely communicating back directly to industry or policy makers. Instead this communication is done through CSOs. Consequently, CSOs acts as gatekeepers of risk related communication and information to and from its members.

Hence, the CSOs’ role becomes very significant in the risk management process of the chemical content in consumer goods. They represent parts of the public in political processes and also to some extent control the information flow about chemical risks. These are two important tasks that have the power to facilitate a deliberative, political process and purposeful risk management regarding health, environment and safety.


  • Social Sciences Interdisciplinary


9th European Sociological Association Conference, 2009

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