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Ulrich Beck - Living in the World Risk Society

Ulrich Beck - Living in the World Risk Society

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Published by Ramona Raţiu
Ulrich Beck has been one of the foremost sociologists of the last few decades, single-handedly promoting the concept of risk and risk research in contemporary sociology and social theory
Ulrich Beck has been one of the foremost sociologists of the last few decades, single-handedly promoting the concept of risk and risk research in contemporary sociology and social theory

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Published by: Ramona Raţiu on Jan 25, 2013
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Economy and Society Volume 35 Number 3 August 2006: 329 345
Ulrich Beck
Living in the world risk society
In a world risk society, we must distinguish between
ecological andfinancial dangers
,which can be conceptualized as
side effects
, and
the threat from terroristnetworks asintentional catastrophes
The principle of deliberately exploiting thevulnerability of modern civilsociety replaces the principle of chance and accident.
Keywords: risk; catastrophe; not-knowing; enlightenment function of world risksociety; cosmopolita realpolitikn .1.The narrative of risk is a narrative of irony“. This narrative deals with theinvoluntary satire, the optimistic futility, withwhich the highly developed institutions of modern society
science, state, business andmilitary
attempt to anticipate what cannot beanticipated. Socrates has left us tomake sense of the puzzling sentence: I knowthat I know nothing. The fatal irony, into whichscientific-technical society plunges us is, as aconsequence ofts perfection, much moreradical: we do not know what it is we don’t knowbut from this dangers arise, which threatenmankind!1.1.The perfectexample here isprovided by thedebate aboutclimate changeIn 1974, about forty-five
years after thediscovery of the cooling agent CFC, of all things,the chemists Rowland and Molina put forward
the hypothesis that CFCs destroy theozone layer of the stratosphere
and, as aresult, increased ultraviolet radiation wouldreach the earth.
The chain of unforeseensecondary effects would lead to climatechanges, which threaten the basis oexistence of mankind
. When
coolants wereinvented no one could know or even suspect
2.Risk isambivalencethat they would
make such a major contributionto global warming”.(331)Being at risk is the way of being and ruling inthe world of modernity; being at global risk isthe human condition at the beginning of thetwenty-first century. But, against the grain of the currentwidespread feeling of doom, I would like to ask:what is the ruse of history which is also inherentin world risk society and emerges with itsrealization? Or more tightly formulated:
isthere an enlightenment function of worldrisk societyand what form does it take?
3.The experience of global risksrepresents a shockfor the whole ohumanity.
Thehistorical irony.
 The experience of global risks is an occurrenceof abrupt and fully conscious confrontation withthe apparentlyexcluded other.Nietzsche had a kind of premonition, when hetalked of an
age of comparing
, in whichdifferent cultures, ethnicities and religions couldbe compared and lived through sideby side.Without being explicit he, too, had an eye forworld historical irony, that in particular it is
theself destructivenes not only physical, butalso ethical of unleashed modernity,which could make it possible for humanbeings to outgrow both the nation-stateand the international order
, as it werebeings to outgrow both the nation-state and theinternational order, the heaven and earth of modernity, as it were.4. To the extent thatrisk is experiencedas
,there are only three
denialapathy ortransformation .
 The first is largely inscribed in modern culture,the second resembles post-modern nihilism, thethird is the ‘
cosmopolitan moment’ of worldrisk society
. And that is what I am going to talkabout. What is meant by that may be explainedwith reference to Hannah Arendt. The
existential shock of danger
_ therein lies thefundamental ambivalence of global risks opens up unintentionally (and often also unseenand unutilized) the (mis)fortune of a possiblenew beginning (which is no cause for falsesentimentality).
How to live in the shadow of global risks?
 How to live, when old certainties are shatteredor are now revealed as lies? Arendt’s answeranticipates the irony of risk.
5. The expectationof theunexpected
requires that theself-evident is nolonger taken as self-evident.The words forthis are neitherutopianismnorpessimismbutironyand‘ambivalence The shock of danger is a call for a newbeginning. Where there is a new beginning,action is possible. Human beings enter intorelations across borders.
This commonactivity by strangers across borders meansfreedom.
All freedomis contained in this ability to begin.
 There isa nostalgia built into the foundations of European sociological
thought, which has neverdisappeared. Perhaps, paradoxically, thisnostalgia
can be overcome with the theory of world risk society? My aim is a non -nostalgic,new critical theory to look at the past and thefuture of modernity.
6.Three steps
-drawing onempirical researchfindings of theMunich ResearchCentre
Old dangers _ new risks:
what is newabout world risk society?2.
Ruse of history
: to what extent are globalrisks a global force in present and future worldhistory, controllable by no one, but which alsoopen up newopportunities of action for states, civil societyactors, etc.?3.
s: in order to understand themanufactured uncertainty, lack of safety andinsecurity of world risk society is there a needfor
a paradigm shift in the social sciences?
7.Old dangers _ newrisks: what is newabout world risksociety?We anticipate themin terms o
structuralarrangements aswell as oemergencyplanning
Modern society has become
a risk society inthe sense that it is increasingly occupiedwith debating, preventing and managingrisks that it itself has produced.
After all, our world appears a lot safer than that,say, of the wartorn regions of Africa,Afghanistan or the Middle East.Are modern societies not distinguished preciselyby the fact that to a large extent they havesucceeded in bringing under controlcontingencies and uncertainties, for examplewith respect to
accidents, violence andsickness
? The past year has once againreminded us, with the
Tsunami catastrophe,the destruction of New Orleans byHurricane Katrina, the devastation of largeregions in South America and Pakistan
,how limited the claim to control of modernsocieties in the face of 
natural forces remains.But even natural hazards appear less randomthan they
used to. Although human interventionmay not stop earthquakes or volcanic
eruptions,they can be predicted with reasonable accuracy.

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