River of difference: Using participatory risk mapping to assess perceived risks in Laredo, Texas, U.S.A., and Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico

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Risk Communication and Community Resilience


The perception of risk is a place-contingent, geographical phenomenon. This is particularly apparent for people who live along the U.S.-Mexico border. The convergence of legal and undocumented transnational migration, narcotrafficking, organized crime violence, and boom-bust economic cycles along what is becoming an increasingly rigid and divisive international border help construct unique, place-specific perceptions of risk on each side by individuals who live there. Using Participatory Risk Mapping (PRM), this study provides evidence to the claim that risk perception is geographical and is situated in place among participants who live on both sides of this border in Laredo, Texas, and Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas. PRM is a useful risk assessment tool where participants are asked to rank-order risks according to their severity, which are then calculated to produce an incidence index in addition to a normalized index of risk severity. This analysis allows for the mapping of risks along axes of incidence and severity. PRM thus identifies the breadth (frequency) and depth (severity) of risks across a population. Furthermore, inferential statistics, such as logistic regression and chi-square, can also situate these perceptions within geographic and demographic ancillary variables. This study engages the geographical aspects of risks along a familiar but ever-changing U.S.-Mexico border while highlighting the utility of the PRM methodology in human risk studies.

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