Get access

Risk, interest groups and the definition of crisis: the case of volcanic ash


  • The case study was supported by the British Academy under their Small Research Grant scheme, by a grant for work on ‘Risk Regulation and Crisis: A case study of the impact of the 2010 volcanic ash cloud crisis on the UK Civil Aviation Authority’. We would also like to thank all those who participated in the research, within the Civil Aviation Authority and elsewhere; and anonymous reviewers for their very helpful comments on an earlier version of the paper.

Corresponding author e-mail:


This paper considers a key aspect of the ‘risk society’ thesis: the belief that we should be able to manage risks and control the world around us. In particular it focuses on the interface between risk and risk events as socially constructed and the insights that ‘critical situations’ give us into ‘the routine and mundane’, the otherwise taken for granted assumptions underlying risk regulation. It does this with reference to the events precipitated by the April 2010 volcanic eruption in the Eyjafjallajökull area of Iceland. The resulting cloud of volcanic ash spread across Europe and much of Europe's airspace was closed to civil aviation for six days, with far reaching consequences including huge financial losses for airlines. The social processes of defining and reacting to risk and crisis both reveal and generate dilemmas and challenges in regulation. This paper examines the role of different interest groups in defining risk expectations and thereby redefining the ash crisis as a regulatory crisis.

Get access to the full text of this article