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The risk/no-risk rhetoric of environmental impact assessments (EIA): The case of off-shore wind farms in Sweden

Journal article
Authors Hervé Corvellec
Åsa Boholm
Published in Local Environment
Volume 13
Issue 7
Pages 627-640
ISSN 1354-9839
Publication year 2008
Published at School of Public Administration
Gothenburg Research Institute (GRI)
Center for Public Sector Research (CEFOS)
Pages 627-640
Language en
Keywords environmental impact assessment (EIA), new rhetoric, wind power, Sweden, risk communication, environmental planning
Subject categories Electric power engineering, Environmental engineering, Public Administration Studies


Risk is a key topic in the communication between developers of infrastructure projects, permit-granting authorities, and civil society. The nature of risk communication is contested among academics, however. Whereas some scholars conceive of risk communication as a matter of effectively communicating expert knowledge on factual matters to the public, others emphasise the role of symbolic construction and rhetoric. This article analyses how wind farm developers rhetorically construct risks in relation to the environmental impact assessment (EIA) for a large offshore wind farm project. Our analysis is inspired by the New Rhetoric, the theory of argumentation developed by Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca (Trait de l'argumentation - la nouvelle rhtorique, Brussels: ditions des presses de l'universit de Bruxelles, 1958). We suggest that the EIA adopt a dual argumentative strategy. The report associates numerous risks with the project by identifying and cataloguing them; however, these risks are also disconnected from the project by being described as nonexistent, negligible, or manageable. We discuss some implications of considering EIAs, not as accounts of reality, but as loci of production for this reality.

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