, Volume 18, Issue 1, pp 91-102,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 20 Nov 2010

Risk and Responsibility: A Complex and Evolving Relationship


This paper analyses the nature of the relationship between risk and responsibility. Since neither the concept of risk nor the concept of responsibility has an unequivocal definition, it is obvious that there is no single interpretation of their relationship. After introducing the different meanings of responsibility used in this paper, we analyse four conceptions of risk. This allows us to make their link with responsibility explicit and to determine if a shift in the connection between risk and responsibility can be outlined. (1) In the engineer’s paradigm, the quantitative conception of risk does not include any concept of responsibility. Their relationship is indirect, the locus of responsibility being risk management. (2) In Mary Douglas’ cultural theory, risks are constructed through the responsibilities they engage. (3) Rayner and (4) Wolff go further by integrating forms of responsibility in the definition of risk itself. Analysis of these four frameworks shows that the concepts of risk and responsibility are increasingly intertwined. This tendency is reinforced by increasing public awareness and a call for the integration of a moral dimension in risk management. Therefore, we suggest that a form of virtue-responsibility should also be integrated in the concept of risk.