, Volume 11, Issue 3, pp 549-562

Neither clear nor present: The social construction of safety and danger

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Abstract

Perceptions of safety and danger are “intersubjective”—products of social construction, collective agreement, and socialization. While objective danger certainly exists, perceptions of danger do not derive directly from observation of the empirical world. The objective environment provides only inconsistent and ambiguous information, permitting ample room for socially constructed beliefs. Three cognitive frameworks—the Cautious, Confident, and Neutral frameworks—organize perceptions of safety and danger. Each framework begins with a default assumption about safety and danger and “marks” certain items as different from this default. In shaping expectations, these frameworks also contribute to perceptions of horror, humor, excitement, and fear. Finally, I use these frameworks to analyze the psychological concept “phobia” as a sociological phenomenon.