Risk as moral danger: the social and political functions of risk discourse in public health

Int J Health Serv. 1993;23(3):425-35. doi: 10.2190/16AY-E2GC-DFLD-51X2.


Risk is a concept with multiple meanings and is ideologically loaded. The author reviews the literature on risk perception and risk as a sociocultural construct, with particular reference to the domain of public health. Pertinent examples of the political and moral function of risk discourse in public health are given. The author concludes that risk discourse is often used to blame the victim, to displace the real reasons for ill-health upon the individual, and to express outrage at behavior deemed socially unacceptable, thereby exerting control over the body politic as well as the body corporeal. Risk discourse is redolent with the ideologies of mortality, danger, and divine retribution. Risk, as it is used in modern society, therefore cannot be considered a neutral term.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Health Behavior*
  • Health Education
  • Health Policy
  • Humans
  • Life Style
  • Morals*
  • Politics*
  • Public Health*
  • Risk-Taking*