Perceptions of risk in the post-Soviet world: A qualitative study of responses to falling rockets in the Altai region of Siberia

Profeta, B; Rechel, B; Moshennikova, SV; Kolyado, IB; Robertus, YV; McKee, M; (2010) Perceptions of risk in the post-Soviet world: A qualitative study of responses to falling rockets in the Altai region of Siberia. Health, risk & society, 12 (5). pp. 409-424. ISSN 1369-8575 DOI:

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There is widespread concern among people living in some parts of Altai territory in Siberia about potential health effects from fallout from rockets launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Extensive research has so far failed to provide evidence to support these concerns. As a consequence, the problem has been labelled by Russian scientists as 'collective psychosocial distress' or 'raketophobia'. The aim of this paper is to provide an understanding of the factors underlying popular concerns about rockets. The paper is based on data collected in 2006 using multiple methods (individual semi-structured interviews, natural group discussions, round tables and participant observation). Concerns related to the impact of the rocket launches among the local population were explored. The analytical framework is informed by discourse analysis and discursive psychology. The findings are that the processes of collective social construction amplify risks perceived to be associated with rocket launches. In the Altai context, this social amplification builds on a societal vulnerability triggered by the collapse of the Soviet ideology. The environmental concern provides opportunities for repressed debates to be expressed that emerge from culturally embedded frustrations and fears that would otherwise be ignored by the political agenda. Moreover, the signals that shape the perception of risk are intrinsic components of local information flows, so that the communication process between experts and policy-makers and the local population itself contributes to the amplification of perceived risks. Concern about the health effects of rockets can be traced to the conditions that existed when the USSR ceased to exist. An effective response must address these deep-seated issues.

Item Type: Article
Keywords: Russia, rockets, public health, risk, risk perception, risk, communication, HEALTH, COMMUNITY, CHERNOBYL, RUSSIA
Faculty and Department: Faculty of Public Health and Policy > Dept of Health Services Research and Policy
Faculty of Public Health and Policy > Dept of Social and Environmental Health Research
Research Centre: ECOHOST - The Centre for Health and Social Change
Centre for Global Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs)
Web of Science ID: 282578700001


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