Food scares and news media: a case study approach to science and risk in the news

Collins, Jeremy (1999) Food scares and news media: a case study approach to science and risk in the news. Doctoral thesis, London Guildhall University.


This thesis examines the importance of 'food scares' as a form of news which can be understood partly in terms of traditional academic models of news production, news values and the sociology of journalism, while also reflecting more recent concerns around the conjunction of science, health risks and the 'public sphere' role of the media. I have adopted a case study approach in which two specific instances of food scares are analysed from various perspectives, both quantitative and qualitative, and particularly with regard to Ulrich Beck's 'Risk Society' thesis and the role of science as the supreme source of cognitive authority in news accounts. In addition, the crucial importance of the relationship between source and journalist is examined via interviews with representatives of both of these groups in relation to the case study examples. The thesis argues that the food scares analysed here can be understood and explained in part as reflecting divisions within the coalitions of interests which comprise the news sources involved. They can however also be seen as an expression of the competing frameworks of scientific rationality and social rationality, of which the latter, in Beck's analysis of 'late modernity' as derived in part from Habermas, represents the emergence of a 'reflexivity' which has the potential to challenge societal conceptions of science and knowledge.

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