This chapter introduces the social science of health risk. Analysis of references to risk in health-related research papers shows that use of the ‘lens of risk’ has expanded remarkably steadily in the period since World War II. This chapter surveys existing texts, identifies a need for a book which offers accessible critical analysis, and promotes risk literacy. Tendencies to make naïve claims about medical rationality in some health service oriented texts and to use impenetrable jargon in social science writing are illustrated. An important distinction between ‘the study of risks’ and ‘the study of risk’ is drawn. Those who engage with health risks focus on specific clinical issues and tend to take the framework of risk-thinking for granted. The social sciences can direct attention towards the general presuppositions that must be drawn upon whenever a particular risk is considered.
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