Biomedical risks and citizenship

Biomedical risks and citizenship: depoliticizing cell site deployment in the Netherlands and Southern California

M.B. de Graaffa*, C. Bröerb and R.A. Westerb

aAmsterdam Institute for Social Science Research, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; bDepartment of Sociology, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Journal of Risk Research DOI: 10.1080/13669877.2015.1071864

Pre-publication full text

Cell phone technology has become a ubiquitous quasi-utility worldwide. Meanwhile, controversies around its health risks are continually emerging in locations around the world. In this paper, we argue that the ongoing controversy is primarily the effect of practices that are trying to govern cell site risks, rather than inherent uncertainties or qualities of the technology. We understand this as a process of medicalization that engenders bio-citizenship. We extend bio-citizenship theory by exposing how actors show an astute and reflexive awareness of the mobilizing potential of medicalization.

We study the governance practice of cell site deployment in the Netherlands and Southern California, USA and investigate how the risk issues and citizenship concerning cell site deployment are co-produced in four main governance practices. Network roll-out practices move health risks backstage, prevention practices push health risks and uncertainties into the future. Design practices actively avoid cell site risks, whereas care practices contain them. Government and industry have become aware of the contentious effect of cell site deployment and govern this to protect the roll-out of the technology. We call this depoliticization. Depoliticization can unintendedly open up new avenues for citizen mobilization.

Keywords: risk governance; medicalization; bio-citizenship; siting controversy; cell phone technology

*Corresponding author: m.b.degraaff@uva.nl