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Risk and responsibility at 30,000 feet: who is to blame for ‘economy class syndrome’?

Author(s): Claire Haggett

Journal: Eä : Revista de Humanidades Médicas & Estudios Sociales de la Ciencia y la Tecnología
ISSN 1852-4680

Volume: 1;
Issue: 3;
Date: 2010;
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Keywords: risk | blame | voluntary risk | discourse | economy class syndrome | online communication

This paper is about health, risk, and responsibility. Any discussion of a health risk inevitably involves attributing blame for its incidence and in this in part dependant upon whether a risk is considered to be voluntarily assumed or forcibly imposed. However, deciding whether a risk has been assumed or imposed is not straightforward, and is a highly contested part of any risk construction. This paper explores this in relation to one particular risk to health, that of contracting a deep vein thrombosis on a long haul flight, more commonly known as ‘economy class syndrome’. Different groups present the risk in distinct ways, and this paper focuses on the contrasting constructions developed of the role of the airlines – either contentious but absolved of blame, or imposing the risk and creating a conspiracy of silence about it; and the passengers – either responsible for the risk through their agency, or helpless victims. This paper uses discourse analysis to explore how this is achieved, and how the conceptions of risk as assumed or imposed are enacted by different groups.

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