Bulletin of Volcanology

, 81:20 | Cite as

Critical volcanology? Thinking holistically about risk and uncertainty

  • Amy DonovanEmail author
Forum Contribution


This paper tackles two related issues in dealing with so-called “wicked” problems: the challenge for scientists wishing to provide useful policy advice whilst maintaining scientific integrity and the challenge of integrating multiple disciplines across the social and physical sciences. It focusses particularly on the problems associated with volcanic risks—specifically those problems that threaten to “politicise” volcanology via the role of scientists in advising authorities. The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030 calls for a greater role for science in reducing risk. It conceives of science very broadly—incorporating social, physical, medical, economic, agricultural and behavioural sciences into the policy process. This presents an exciting opportunity; yet, there are difficulties in approaching the science-policy encounter in the context of risk, especially under high uncertainty and involving multiple disciplines. The paper reviews literature in volcanic risk assessment, science studies, and policy studies to suggest that risk requires critical, reflexive, transparent, and discursive management through the availability of spaces in which academics of all disciplines, policymakers, and stakeholders can openly discuss method, meaning, and interpretation of evidence.


Volcanic risk Interdisciplinary volcanology Philosophy of risk Risk assessment Risk and uncertainty 



The author would like to thank Jenni Barclay and an anonymous reviewer for helpful comments that enhanced the manuscript, and Raffaello Cioni and Andy Harris for their careful editorial handling of this manuscript.


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© International Association of Volcanology & Chemistry of the Earth's Interior 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GeographyUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK

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