Risk Perceptions in Multicultural Contexts
Risk is a surprisingly challenging concept to address across cultural boundaries – even across street if your religion or political views are different. What one person views as risky could seem negligible to another. How we perceive risk is shaped by both personal experiences, as well as the experiences and engendered beliefs of past generations. The differences in how Westernized cultures and tribal cultures perceive risk may affect how likely they are to accept changes proposed for conservation. Risk perception of tribal groups living in remote areas likely centers around basic survival needs. By contrast, conservationists focus on risks from mankind, climate change, and other external forces – more abstract concepts that are removed from their own existence and wellbeing. When the perception of risk associated with a conservation plan are so different between the two parties involved, it can lead to miscommunication and misunderstandings. What one side may see as a reasonable risk to achieve a goal, the other may deem too risky to be worthwhile. I had never before thought of risk perception as such an obstacle to successful conservation.
It was quite eye-opening to the potential for miscommunication when each party’s perceived risks are not addressed. In the early stages of planning and interaction, discussing the risks perceived by local communities would likely increase the chances for short and long-term success of a conservation project. For instance, does a community consider re-establishing a migration corridor too risky because of the predators it would draw to their nearby grazing lands? From the perspective of a conservationist, not establishing such a migration corridor would increase the risk that the extinction of threatened species would occur. It’s this difference in perception of risk that could lead to conservation project failing before they ever have the chance to prove themselves effective.