Learning Lab Denmark - INCUBEus

Arena Theory

In modern democratic societies there is a continuing struggle to obtain influence in the decision-making process. Everybody knows that the amount of political influence vary strongly among different individuals and groups. The so-called Arena Theory attempts to explain this phenomenon from the perspective of access to resources necessary to participate in that process.

The hypothesis underlying Arena Theory is that individuals and organisations can influence the policy process only if they have sufficient resources available to pursue their goals. The actors are presumed to be goal-oriented and to select the most effective means to mobilise their resources for a particular goal. Their resources might be money, power, social trust or prestige, empirical evidence, or social commitment through solidarity and ethical values.

Applied to risk, Arena Theory provides an intersubjective anchor for determining success in the conflict over risk decisions. The fundamental axiom is that resource availability is directely proportional to the degree of influence for shaping risk policies. Arena Theory does not speculate about what kind of groups might be formed or what reasons they have for pursuing their goal. It just presupposes that the strongest and most resourceful player will 'win the game'.

And this is maybe also the weakness of the theory. Not all politics can be seen as a game in a multi-level Roman arena. Not all social struggles exist because spectators want to be entertained, although it sometimes looks like it. Most debates about risk are characterised by good faith and the wish to resolve a conflict. It happens that people mean what they say. Thus, political actions are not necessarily based on strategic considerations but may be based on a genuine wish to improve a bad situation.

Further reading
Renn, O. (1992). "The Social Arena Concept of Risk Debates." In Social Theories of Risk, edited by Sheldon Krimsky and Dominic Golding, pp. 179-196, Westport, CT: Praeger.

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Nine Technologies

A. Air Transport
B. Buildings
C. Land Transport
D. Marine Transport
E. Bridges and Dams
F. Oil Tankers
G. Chemical Industry
H. Medical Industry
I. Nuclear Industry

Nine Theories

Quantitative Risk Assessment
Decision Analysis
Cost-benefit Analysis
Normal Accident Theory
High Reliability Organisations
Risk communication
Arena Theory
Cultural Theory

Five Categories

Hazard (0-1000)
Range (km2)
Fear Factor (0-10)
Media Effect (0-100)