Graduation Year

2015

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.A.

Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Department

Anthropology

Degree Granting Department

Anthropology; Public Health

Major Professor

Roberta Baer, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Barbara Orban, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Rebecca Zarger, Ph.D.

Keywords

Environmental Justice, Health Inequalities, Health Perceptions, Health Policy, Medical Anthropology, Risk Assessment

Abstract

This paper analyzes heath risk and how it is communicated to, and understood within, a predominantly African American neighborhood in central Florida. Residents accuse the county department of public works of purposeful contamination and discrimination over a period of 30 years. I raise the questions of how risk is perceived and what roles race or class may play. I also developed a model for risk communication that includes all stakeholders. Finally, I expand the conversation of health disparities to include issues of widening gaps in perceptions of health.

This was examined by looking at the following:

1. The lack of documentation into the subjectivity of the health risk assessment process - i.e. the critique of science

2. The differing modes for creating, communicating, and receiving risk in which the resident's perspective is not valued - i.e. the critique of power

3. The impact of race and class on furthering inequities and disparities in the environmental health risks message - i.e. the critique of policy.

Underlining Key Factors:

1. The residents of Mitchell Heights (emic) perceive the contamination at the former Hernando County Department of Public Works site differently than the experts/officials (etic).

2. Race and class are factors in both the perception of risk and the communication of risk for the residents and the experts.

3. Policy concerning the determination and subsequent communication of risk is primarily concerning with the perspective of scientific data.

Recommendations:

1. As it relates to assessing environmental risks, there needs to be a development of a more holistic set of methodologies that incorporate diverse perspectives in a bi-directional knowledge exchange. This should allow for acceptable risk to be understood as co-created through negotiation and compromise between the measured and lived experiences. Ethnographic methods should partner with epidemiology and environmental sciences.

2. Once these mixed-method, holistic methodologies are field-tested, they need to be adopted as formal procedure by agencies responsible for the analysis and communication of risks. Risk should include the technical and the relational.

3. Policymakers must widen their understanding of what constitutes "policy relevant knowledge." In addition, policies targeted at eliminating health disparities and inequalities need to value the broad differences the often exist in perceiving "health."

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