Research Articles

Integrating qualitative methodologies into risk assessment: Insights from South Durban

Shirley Brooks, Catherine Sutherland, Dianne Scott, Heli Guy
South African Journal of Science | Vol 106, No 9/10 | a324 | DOI: | © 2010 Shirley Brooks, Catherine Sutherland, Dianne Scott, Heli Guy | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 18 June 2010 | Published: 05 October 2010

About the author(s)

Shirley Brooks, University of the Free State, South Africa
Catherine Sutherland, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Dianne Scott, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Heli Guy, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa


In the field of risk management, there is growing recognition that traditional tools of analysis may be limited in their ability to arrive at a textured understanding of risk as it is actually experienced by communities. This paper begins with the premise that risk is socially constructed by lay people, as well as by scientists, and that this recognition has important implications for the development of risk management approaches. Technical risk assessments can be complemented by qualitative methodologies that are designed to reveal lay or local knowledge of risk. Such research tools were employed in working with respondents from residential communities in the highly industrialised South Durban Basin in KwaZulu-Natal. Here, as in other urban industrial contexts, risk is constructed by residents through their own experience and histories, their understanding of science, and their response to technical management tools. The qualitative approach adopted in this research provided new insight into residents’ responses to chronic and acute risk, drew attention to a widening gap between people’s actual experiences and the claims of science and risk management experts and exposed currently hidden, everyday risk narratives that are not directly related to the dominant environmental hazards connected with industry, but which significantly impact people’s living environments.


risk management; urban risk assessment; qualitative methodology; lay knowledge; science and society


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