Flooding and the framing of risk in British broadsheets, 1985–2010

Maria Paula Escobar, David Demeritt

Our analysis of 2707 news stories explores the framing of flooding in Britain over the past quarter century and the displacement of a once dominant understanding of flooding as an agricultural problem of land drainage by the contemporary concern for its urban impacts, particularly to homes and property. We document dramatic changes in the volume and variety of reporting about flooding since 2000 as the risks of flooding have become more salient, the informal ‘Gentlemen’s Agreement’ between government and private insurers has broken down, and flood management subjected to greater public scrutiny. While the historic reliance on private insurance remains largely unchallenged, we show that other aspects of flood hazard management are now topics of active political debate to which the looming threat of climate change adds both urgency and exculpatory excuses for poor performance. We conclude by reflecting on the significance of the case for grand theories of neoliberalisation and governmentality.

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