Risk Society

We face risk everywhere we go in our everyday. These are technological risk that, because they are produced by society, are considered preventable; a contrast to natural risks which have traditionally been studied by hazards researchers. When that said, both types of risks are affected by social, economic, political and cultural systems. In this way they are both "social" in their form.

According to the German sociologist, Ulrich Beck, we are all exposed to risk, because we live in the risk society. Not because we live in a more dangerous world compared to before, but because risk has become the center of the public debate.
This post is about the risk society we live in, and why wee need to understand this, according to Ulrich Beck. Beck's research implies that we can only anticipate danger and overcome fears, if we understand that risk has now become the center of life, for each and every one of us. We live in a time where  risk is on the global horizon, which companies such as individuals, are guided by.
According to Beck, we need, not only to act responsibility, but it implies a strategic advantage. The ability to anticipate a risk, is to not turn emergencies into social panic and fears into catastrophes.  

To guide us through the risk society, Beck teaches us to make a positive change of the ways and in the practices of a strategic decision.  

“From a sociological perspective, the concept of risk is always a matter of anticipation. Risk is the anticipation of disaster in the now, in order to prevent that disaster from happening or even worse. Anticipating a risk means putting the potential danger in perspective. The anticipation of the disaster puts a strain on the most steadfast certainties, but offers everyone the chance to produce significant changes, kickstarting new energies”.

An unexpected event
“Even if there is no catastrophe, we find ourselves in the middle of a social development in which the expectation of the unexpected, the waiting for possible risks increasingly dominates the scene of our lives: individual risks and collective risks. A new phenomenon that becomes a stress factor for the institutions of law, finance, for the political system and even for families’ everyday lives. Being able to live in the risk society means anticipating the unexpected”.

Freedom within risk 
Risk is a constructive part of the social insecurity we live in. We cannot, however, definite it in absolute terms: “Every insecurity is always relative to the context and concrete risks that a person or a society need to deal with”.    

Beck concludes: “we need to accept insecurity as an element of our freedom. It might seem paradoxical, but this is also a form of democratization: it is the choice, that is continually renewed, between various possible options. The change stems from this choice”. 

In the next post, we’ll learn even more about the risk society according to Ulrich Beck!

For further reading:

- Beck, Ulrich (1992). Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity. Translated by Ritter, Mark. London: Sage Publications. ISBN 978-0-8039-8346-5.

- Beck, Ulrich (2020) "Review of Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity"

About the Author

Julie Hviid


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