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Opportunity or threat? Disagreements in the identification and avoidance of risk

October 30 2009

Venue: Ground Floor Chambers Building Room 00-13, The Open University, Milton Keynes

Organised by:

ESRC Innogen Centre, The Open University,


The meaning of ‘risk’ has changed over time and contemporary use has extended its meaning and also what it signifies. From its former value-free association with hazard, uncertainty and uncharted waters, risk has come to stand for the opposite of benefit and for the likelihood that something unpleasant will occur. Thus it can be used, according to Mary Douglas, as a ‘weapon’ in the ‘struggle for ideological domination’.

Using ethnographic data from recent research in the field of donor-assisted human conception in the UK, I shall explore the extent to which the struggle is partly a strategy to deflect blame. I shall describe and analyse attitudes to the use of personal gamete donors, that is, donors or semen or ova who are recruited and known personally to recipients prior to treatment being carried out at a licensed infertility clinic. The differing attitudes to the practice illuminate contrasting expectations about donor assisted conception and disagreements about whether creating risky relationships is rational and responsible.,23244,en.t4.html