Themata are the antimonies or dyadic oppositions that lie at the root of common sense and shape how we make sense of issues in the social world. This paper showcases and extends understanding of the role played by themata in the social representations literature, with specific reference to
their role in structuring public responses to threatening phenomena. To this end the paper reviews empirical research examining how publics engage with a range of contemporary risk issues, namely climate change, earthquakes and emerging infectious diseases (EID). It demonstrates that a core thema, that of self/other, underpins public engagement with these diverse risks. By drawing together insights from the three risks it demonstrates not only that a single thema can drive a diverse set of representational fields but also the consequences of this thema both for a society’s insiders and its outsiders. Primarily, it has the consequence of identity protection and complacency for insiders and potential spoiling of identity for outsiders.