Reactions to the Pace of Change

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Reactions to the Pace of Change

Annexe 2:“Risk Society”The research of German sociologist Ulrich Beckfocuses primarily on the problems of modern-daysociety. In 1986, he was the first to introduce theconcept of “risk society” in his book Risk Society:Towards a New Modernity. 58) Here he argues thatthe Western world is headed for a new kind ofmodernity in which the welfare state will distributerisks rather than riches. His thesis is that our fightfor daily bread has disappeared in favour of a conflictover how to avoid certain hazardous futurescenarios. Beck primarily focuses on ecological risks(his book was published shortly after the accidentat Chernobyl) but he also examines other kinds ofrisks found in this new modernity.The new modernity is characterized by havingbecome reflexive. When it was formerly orientedtowards making use of nature (the industrial revolution),it is today primarily occupied with dealing withthe problems caused by these technological andeconomic developments. As a result, according toBeck, modernity itself has caused the risks of ourtime.Thus Beck repudiates the idea of developmentautomatically resulting in progress. Instead, he pointsout that in the wake of development follows difficulty.The more social and industrial developments wecreate, the more difficult it becomes for the individualhuman being to understand and orient himselfin a still more complex world. Knowledge and sciencehave constituent roles in the risk society becausethe risks we are subjected to are often invisible orincomprehensible for the man in the street. Thiscould be, for instance, toxic foodstuffs and environmentalpollution which only expert knowledge andspecial theories, measuring instruments andtechniques can uncover.Beck is aware that risks in themselves are nothingnew. The new in this is, he claims, that risks are createdby society and therefore they are no longer justsomething that nature subjects us to at random, suchas earthquakes or strokes of lightning. When, for instance,the Rhine overflows, it is not just a consequenceof heavy rain, it is also because streams in thearea have been straightened out and the wetlandsthat were formerly capable of retaining large amountsof water have been drained, and perhaps even coveredover with asphalt, causing the water to drain fasterand thus flood the river all at once.While the word risk formerly had a ring of courageand adventure, today, it makes us think of self-destruction.The risks of our times pose a global threat accordingto Beck, and they are the consequence ofthe exponentially growing productive forces in themodernization process. Modernization has becomeits own enemy.According to Beck there is a connection betweenthe production of risks and decision-making. Thereason for this is that the socially created naturaldisasters are dependent on the decisions we make.This means that we make greater demands on ourdecision-makers’ knowledge and know-how than everbefore. Thus politics achieve new content and newmeaning – it becomes more technocratic as wellas geared towards avoiding problems, but it alsobecomes more exposed to spontaneously arisingrumours. Therefore Beck thinks than one consequenceof the risk society is that good argumentswill determine success, cf. the section on illusionpreparedness.58) Ulrich Beck, Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity (translated from the German by Mark Ritter) (1986; London: Sage, 1992)28 R E A C T I O N S T O T H E P A C E O F C H A N G E

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