Tagung 2013 | Conference 2013

“Risk discourses, discourse risks:
European perspectives on the linguistic depiction of technological risks”

Aims of the Conference [Auf Deutsch lesen]

Social sciences and humanities have been increasingly interested in the national and international public’s perception of risk technologies, especially of scientific and technological developments which are viewed as existential dangers for humanity (Zinn 2008). This is mainly due to the growing importance of the public perception of technological risks in legal and political discourses (Kurath 2005). ‘Risks’ are seen as social artefacts that are formed in social groups or institutions (Renn 1992: 69). This social constructionist idea of risk has gained more and more importance, which can easily be understood since the frame conditions for natural sciences, life sciences and geo sciences have more and more been set in public social, legal and political discourses (Wynne 1992, Nowotny et. al. 2001; Jasanoof 2005; Kurath 2005). To find out how opinions are formed in public discourses is one of the aims of this conference since this enables us to see the public perceptions of technological risks (e.g. Wiedemann/Hennen 1990). Thus a major point in this regard is the way typical issues like ‘climate change’, ‘genetic engineering’, ‘synthetic biology’ and ‘food scandals’ are dealt with linguistically in old and new media, since the social practices of wording an issue (such as the coinage of metaphors, patterns of argumentation, references to old risk discourses) help to shape the public opinion (Kleinwellfonder 1996; Calsamigla/van Dijk 2004; Liebert 2005; Müller et al. 2010; Lösch 2012; Janich/Simmerling 2013). Thus a public attitude towards technological risks is formed which becomes quite powerful: due to instruments like opinion research and political participation in a democratic society, this society’s general opinion may become a promoter and set the scope of action for legal, political and scientific discourses of decision–making. This means that linguistic practices in public spheres obtain considerable relevance for legislative procedures and thus also for the scope of action of scientific research as well as the development and implementation of technologies in society.

During this conference, researchers from the areas of engineering results assessment and sociological discourse analysis shall be brought together with representatives of linguistic discourse and media analysis. The disciplines involved here share the premise that discourses are social practices of forming issues in which the epistemic, deontic and conative ways of looking at facts constitute themselves (Keller 2005; Warnke 2007; Felder/Müller 2009; Habscheid/Reuther 2013). For example, it shall be analysed how certain issues come up in public as well as scientific debates, or which patterns of argumentation, metaphors, re–combinations of old and new discourse patterns etc. serve to establish evidences that then in turn influence legislative processes, orders, scientific programs and thus whole branches of research (Jasanoff 2005; Kaiser et. al. 2010; Böschen 2013; Böschen/Wehling 2012). Consequently, the view that discourse analysis takes on risk discourses is thus important because it enables us to find out how an issue is taken up in public debates, how it might come to be perceived as a risk only due to the public discussion and as a result does not only influence controversies but also research policies and regulations (Lösch 2013). In this sense, research on risk discourses in media is of the utmost importance for engineering results assessment.

The expert opinion of discourse analysis is particularly important here since such discourses develop their very own dynamics in the interdependent conditions of the different orientation discourses (Tanner 2003). These dynamics are perceived as a risk, namely a discourse risk, by the actors in natural and life sciences in particular. The sociological discourse analysis focuses on the way the actors and institutions act and can show how technological risks are constituted, distributed and transformed on the macrolevel of social production of knowledge (Keller 2005). The linguistic discourse analysis focuses on the linguistic patterns of the social constitution of risks and the specific mediality of the linguistically formed facts (van Dijk 2009). Thus rhetorical devices (metaphors, presupposed topoi, strategies to convince and persuade others, syntactic and textual connections of facts) can be analysed in their dependence on the media, groups of speakers and communication situations (e.g. Wengeler 2003; Liebert 2005; Nerlich 2010). Since the perspectivations of facts inherent in language insinuate decision–making (Köller 2004; Felder/Müller 2009; Felder 2013), the linguistic expert opinion is highly relevant here. With the means of discourse analysis, explicit and implicit semantic battles (Felder 2006) can also be analysed, in which the implementation of linguistically bound fact perspectivations in public discourses is fought about.

The importance of the conference for the branches of research involved The importance of the conference for the risk research in the areas of sociological and linguistic discourse analysis can be seen both in methodological aspects and the content of the conference:

1) Importance of the methods discussed

A (new) definition of the relationship between linguistic and sociological studies in the area of risk research regarding aims, methods, mutual complementation and different blind spots in each discipline: Researchers in discourse analysis with social sciences and linguistics have been working together more closely for the last years and have been forming closer networks. However, the differences between the perspectives inherent in both fields have to be compared again and again in order to come to a way to define how the results of one branch of research can be judged and regarded by the other.

2) Importance of the content discussed

Looking at the specifically European perspective on risk discourses – in a double sense: First of all, the analysis of different topics has revealed that European discourses show clear idiosyncracies concerning the conceptualisation of technological and environmental risks in a global comparison (Jasanoff 2005, Kurath 2005). Europe seems to be a rather homogeneous discourse space, e.g. in the public perception of green genetic engineering (with the exception of Spain). On the other hand, the fact that Europe consists of so many different countries means that there is a diversity of media shaped by nationality, cultures and the different languages. Thus risk discourses also show different characteristics shaped by the conditions of the subdiscourses in each country. The conference wants to show the current state of research on the European diversity of perspectives and bring these together.

This conference shall bring together European humanists and social scientists and interdisciplinary researchers from the study of engineering results assessment who all study such linguistic risk discourses from different angles. Scholars from Denmark, Germany, England, Italy, Lithuania, Switzerland, Austria, Spain, and Wales have been invited. The official languages of the conferences will be English and German.


Böschen, Stefan: (2013): Hybride Wissensregime. Entgrenzungsprozesse zwischen Wissenschaft und Gesellschaft. Baden–Baden (zugl. Universität Augsburg Habil. 2010; erscheint bei Nomos in der Reihe Wissenschafts– und Technikforschung).

Böschen, Stefan / Wehling, P. (2012): Neue Wissensarten: Risiko und Nichtwissen. In: Maasen, S.; Kaiser, M.; Reinhart, M.; Sutter, B. (Hrsg.): Handbuch Wissenschaftssoziologie. Wiesbaden: Springer VS 2012, S. 317–327.

Calsamiglia H./van Dijk T.A. (2004): Popularization Discourse and Knowledge about the Genoma. In: Discourse & Society 15/4, S. 369–389.

Felder, Ekkehard (Hg.) (2006): Semantische Kämpfe. Macht und Sprache in den Wissenschaften. Berlin/New York: de Gruyter (Linguistik – Impulse und Tendenzen 19).

Felder, Ekkehard (Hg.) (2013): Faktizitätsherstellung in Diskursen. Die Macht des Deklarativen. Berlin/Boston.

Felder, Ekkehard/Müller, Marcus (2009): Wissen durch Sprache. Theorie, Praxis und Erkenntnisinteresse des Forschungsnetzwerkes „Sprache und Wissen”. Berlin, New York.

Grunwald, Armin (2010): Technikfolgenabschätzung – Eine Einführung. Zweite, grundlegend überarbeitete erweiterte Auflage. Berlin: edition sigma (Gesellschaft – Technik – Umwelt, Neue Folge 1).

Habscheid, Stephan/Reuther, Nadine: Performatisierung und Verräumlichung von Diskursen. Zur soziomateriellen Herstellung von “Sicherheit” an öffentlichen Orten. In: Ekkehard Felder (Hg.): Faktizitätsherstellung in Diskursen. Die Macht des Deklarativen. Berlin/ New York: de Gruyter (= Reihe Sprache und Wissen), S. 127–146.

Janich, Nina/Simmerling, Anne (2013): “Nüchterne Forscher träumen…” – Nichtwissen im Klimadiskurs unter deskriptiver und kritischer diskursanalytischer Betrachtung. In: Meinhof, Ulrike/Reisigl, Martin/Warnke, Ingo H. (Hgg.): Diskurslinguistik im Spannungsfeld von Deskription und Kritik. Berlin: Akademie Verlag (Diskursmuster – Discourse Patterns 1), S. 65–100.

Jasanoff, Sheila (2005): Designs on Nature: Science and Democracy in Europe and the United States. Princeton.

Kaiser, Mario/Kurath, Monika/Maasen, Sabine/Rehmannn–Sutter, Christoph (Hgg.) (2010): Govern–ing Future Technologies: Nanotechnology and the Rise of an Assessment Regime (Yearbook Sociology of the Sciences)

Kehrt, Christian/Schüßler, Peter/Weitze, Marc–Denis (2011): Neue Technologien in der Gesellschaft – Akteure, Erwartungen, Kontroversen und Konjunkturen. Bielefeld.

Keller, Reiner (2005): Wissenssoziologische Diskursanalyse. Grundlegung eines Forschungsprogramms. Wiesbaden.

Kleinwellfonder, Birgit (1996): Der Risikodiskurs. Zur gesellschaftlichen Inszenierung von Risiko. Opladen.

Köller, Wilhelm (2004): Perspektivität und Sprache. Zur Struktur von Objektivierungsformen in Bildern, im Denken und in der Sprache. Berlin, New York.

Kurath, Monika (2005): Wissenschaft in der Krise. Risikodiskurse über Gentechnik im transatlantischen Vergleich. Zürich.

Liebert, Wolf–Andreas (2005): Metaphern als Handlungsmuster der Welterzeugung. Das verborgene Metaphern–Spiel der Naturwissenschaften. In: Fischer, Hans Rudi (Hg.): Eine Rose ist eine Rose ist eine Rose… Zur Funktion von Metaphern in Wissenschaft und Therapie. Weilerswist: Velbrück, 2005, S. 207–233.

Lösch, Andreas (2012): Risiko als Medium zur Kommunikation von Nichtwissen. Eine soziologische Fallstudie zur Selbstregulierung der Nanotechnologie. In: Janich, N.; Nordmann, A.; Schebek, L. (Hrsg.): Nichtwissenskommunikation in den Wissenschaften. Interdisziplinäre Zugänge. Frankfurt am Main, Berlin u.a., S. 171–207

Lösch, Andreas (2013): Die diskursive Konstruktion technologischer Wirklichkeit. Baden–Baden (unter dem Titel „Technologien jenseits ihrer Regulierbarkeit” zugl. TU Darmstadt Habil.; erscheint bei Nomos in der Reihe Wissenschafts– und Technikforschung).

Müller, Marcus/Freitag, Birgit/Köder, Franziska (2010): Plant biotechnology in German media. A linguistic analysis of the public image of genetically modified organisms. In: Biotechnology Journal 5, 541–544.

Nerlich, Brigitte (2010): ’Climategate’: paradoxical metaphors and political paralysis. In: Environmental Values. 19(4), S. 419–442.

Nowotny, Helga/Scott, Peter/Gibbons Michael (2001): Re–Thinking Science. Knowledge and the Public in an Age of Uncertainity. Oxford.

Renn, Ortwin (1992): Concepts of Risks. A Classification. In: Krimsky, Sheldon/Golding, Dominic (Hg.): Social Theories of Risk. Westport, S. 53–79.

Tanner, Klaus (2003): Vom Mysterium des Menschen. Ethische Urteilsbildung im Schnittfeld von Biologie, Rechtswissenschaft und Theologie. In: Anselm, Rainer/Körtner, Ulrich (Hg.): Streitfall Biomedizin. Urteilsfindung in christlicher Verantwortung. Göttingen. S. 135–158

Van Dijk, Teun Adrianus (2009): Society and Discourse. How social Contexts influence Text and Talk. Cambridge.

Warnke, Ingo H. (Hg.) (2007): Diskurslinguistik nach Foucault. Theorie und Gegenstände. Berlin/New York: de Gruyter. (Linguistik – Impulse & Tendenzen; 25)

Wengeler, Martin (2003): Topos und Diskurs. Begründung einer argumentationsanalytischen Methode und ihre Anwendung auf den Migrationsdiskurs (1960-1985). Tübingen (Reihe Germanistische Linguistik 244).

Wiedemann, P.M.; Hennen, L. (1990): Schwierigkeiten bei der Kommunikation über technische Risiken. In: Forschungszentrums Jülich (Hrsg.): Technik und Gesellschaft. Jülich: Forschungszentrum Jülich 1990, S. 9–34. (Konferenzen des Forschungszentrums Jülich, Bd.1).

Wynne, Brian (1992): Risk and social Learning: Reification to Engagement. In: Krimsky, Sheldon/Golding, Dominic (Hgg.): Social Theory of Risk. Westport CT, S. 275–297.

Zinn, Jens O. (Ed.) (2008): Social Theories of Risk and Uncertainty: An Introduction. Oxford.