Deus é Brasileiro?

Preface for Risco – the Brazilian translation of Risk to be published in Brazil in March 2009.

I first encountered the idea that God might be a Brazilian forty years ago. I was a visiting student at the University of São Paulo. On a trip from São Paulo to Santos I was the passenger of an extremely skilful Brazilian driver. I was terrified. I begged him to slow down. “Don’t worry,” he said, taking a hand off the wheel to pat my knee reassuringly, “Deus é Brasileiro.”

I am grateful for the invitation to write a preface to this book for Brazilian readers. It provides an opportunity to reflect both on my experience of risk in Brazil and on developments in the field of risk since the book was first published in 1995.

For the rest of the preface click here


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  1. Dr. Robert Davis says:

    Deus é Brasileiro? Preface for Risco – the Brazilian translation of Risk. To be published in Brazil in March 2009.

    “Since publication of the book in 1995 I have been increasingly impressed by the ability of cultural theory to bring a modicum of order and civility to debates about risk. It is not a typology for pigeonholing participants in debates about risk.”

    “We explained that in terms of the cultural theory typology they, the Health and
    Safety Executive, were statutory Hierarchists. They made the rules and enforced the rules. Further we told them that for the foreseeable future they could expect to be attacked by Egalitarians – such as The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, the Consumers Association, and environmental groups complaining that they were not doing enough to protect society. “

    And from: Risk management and the limitations of measurement
    “Reinforcement also comes from the Egalitarian quadrant. Single-issue pressure
    groups such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, the Consumers
    Association, and environmental groups such as Friends of the Earth all routinely
    complain that insufficient is being done to protect us.”

    I would like to take issue with who is included in the typology as “egalitarian”. You note that the typology is not (your emphasis) about pigeonholing. So maybe I shouldn’t pick up on this – but hopefully my comments may be illuminating.

    I noticed this as I have been described by you in the past as being “egalitarian”. The RDRF (www.rdrf.org) and the road danger reduction movement believes in reducing danger at source (e.g. from motor vehicle traffic) and making those responsible for endangering others accountable as a way of doing so and as desirable in its own right.

    I don’t see zero risk as attainable or desirable. I am OK with people endangering themselves (or at least seeing this as qualitatively different and less of a problem than endangering others). Which may make me something of an individualist.

    As you and I have pointed out at length, the interventions called for by the “road safety” lobby (such as RoSPA) have fudged the distinction between hurting oneself and hurting others, and reduced danger for the motorized in ways which has shifted the risk on the more vulnerable and generally more benign road users – which we don’t like at all. Basically, RoSPA and the official “road safety” movement are not so good at calling for reductions in road danger in source – and I have argued are implicated in making it worse. – whereas this is an area road danger reduction proponents are indeed “precautionary “. I suppose I would say that if I want equity in road safety matters I may indeed be “egalitarian”. I don’t think RoSPA are.

    Also, they tend to be closely linked to official managers of “road safety” in government, so they are into the hierarchist bit. Furthermore, they go along with increased motorization as a fact of life to be accepted (their first head was chairman of Vauxhall Motors) and could be said to be in some ways “fatalist”.

    So – does this mean the typology is of limited value – or a useful base for indicating differences within those assigned to one of the “types”? I haven’t even got going on the Consumers Association…

    Dr. Robert Davis, Chair, Road Danger Reduction Forum

  2. Dr. Robert Davis says:

    at chairrdrf@aol.com

  3. johnadams says:

    Cultural theory offers a way to characterise cultures in terms of their positions along two axes – grid and group in Mary Douglas’s original formulation. Grid refers to the degree to which individuals’ choices are constrained by their positions in society. Group refers to the degree of solidarity in society – see Risk Chapter 3.
    Is the typology of limited value? Certainly, in the way that all attempts to generalize about the full idiosyncratic reality of human attitudes and behaviour are of limited value – see Risk Chapter 11, especially the section on the fallacy of misplaced concreteness. But I find it useful in precisely the way that you have deployed it to discuss the role of RoSPA (the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) in debates about road safety. It provides a framework and a vocabulary for discussing how well or badly the behaviour of groups or individuals conforms to their professed beliefs.
    RoSPA’s website proclaims that its egalitarian mission is “to save lives and reduce injuries”. It attempts this mostly through education, persuasion and campaigning – all characteristically egalitarian activities. But on occasion it campaigns for changes in the law that can fairly be labelled “hierarchist”; in the case of seat belts, for example, they not only tried to persuade people to use them, they campaigned in support of a law that would compel people to use them – see Risk pp 114 – 115.
    You observe that RoSPA “goes along with increased motorization, and note RoSPA’s past close association with the chairman of Vauxhall Motors, implying (I think) that RoSPA also has individualistic tendencies. The debate about whether the car is an individualistic form of transport can also be framed in cultural theory terms. Some would argue that increasing motorization is egalitarian because it promotes freedom and democracy by giving growing numbers access to the enlarged range of opportunities previously enjoyed by an elite few. Others, you and I, argue that it weakens social solidarity, that it is socially polarizing because it increases the disadvantage of the substantial numbers left behind, dependent for their mobility on the withered remains of public transport or the goodwill of car owners.
    So, cultural theory cannot settle all arguments, but it can lend a modicum of structure and coherence to debates that would otherwise degenerate into incoherent shouting matches.

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