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'Pollution fears over sperm count' http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/3378315.stm. Rural mobile phone use 'riskier'' http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4552645.stm ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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  • Society and Sociology in the New Millennium
    Lecture 6
  • Dr. Chris Rumford

  • Welcome to this PowerPoint presentation on risk
  • This topic links with the work we have already
    done on postmodernity, globalization, and the
    challenges to sociology posed by shifts away from
    industrial society
  • The risk society thesis is associated with the
    work of Ulrich Beck

Approaches to risk
  • According to Mythen (2004) there are four major
    social science approaches to risk
  • Anthropologists (e.g. Mary Douglas) look at
    variations in understandings of risk in different
  • Psychologists examine individual cognition of
  • Foucauldian approaches to risk explore the role
    of social institutions in constructing
    understandings of risk (e.g. Dean, 1999)
  • Sociologists such as Beck and Giddens look at the
    pervasive effects of risk on everyday life.
  • In this class, we will look at the fourth
    approach, UIrich Becks risk society thesis.

Introducing Becks work
  • For Beck, the central contradiction in
    contemporary society is that there exist
    mega-dangers or hazards that are on the one hand
    created by society itself, but on the other are
    neither attributable nor accountable nor even
    manageable within society (Strydom, 2002 59)
  • i.e. organized irresponsibility
  • This means we are moving towards a risk society.
  • Paradigmatic risks are nuclear, chemical,
    genetic, ecological.

  • From terrorism to environmental hazards and the
    risks inherent in everyday lifestyle choices
    (food, relationships, mobile phone usage) we seem
    to be bombarded with risk, and information about
  • Contemporary society seems to be characterised by
    risk and debates on how it should be managed at
    both the institutional and personal levels.
  • However, we need to ask what it means to
    characterise western societies as risk
    societies and investigate further the changes
    that this designation supposes.

Management of risk in everyday life
  • Listen to the Radio 4 programme Thinking
    Allowed (23 March 2005) presented by Laurie
    Taylor on the topic of Management of risk in
    everyday life featuring, amongst others, David
    Denney, Professor of Social and Public Policy at
    Royal Holloway, and the author of a new book Risk
    and Society
  • http//www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/factual/thinkingallow
  • click on the box labelled Listen again
    towards the left-hand side

Risk society natural or man-made?
  • Is it not the case that societies have always
    been risk societies?
  • Beck says that in pre-modern society risks were
    associated with the natural world plague,
    famine, earthquakes etc. (or taken as evidence of
    supernatural forces)
  • This was a world of uncertainty, rather than risk
  • In the contemporary world risk emerges as
    consequence of human activity (e.g.
  • In this sense, we can say that risk has replaced

  • We have moved from a world of where uncertainty
    was the result natural hazards
  • to a world where risks are manufactured or the
    product of human attempts to dominate nature.
  • Please read the newspaper article Unnatural
    disasters by Andrew Simms which can be found at
  • What does this tell us about the nature of
    manufactured risks?

Ulrich Beck Risk Society Towards a New
Modernity (Sage, 1992)
  • Beck argues that we have witnessed a shift from
    the production and distribution of goods
  • to a concern with the prevention and
    minimization of bads (i.e. risk)

Read the Wikipedia entry on Ulrich
d A Summary of Ulrich Becks Risk Society
Towards a New Modernityhttp//www.nextreformation
The nature of risk
  • Since mid-C20th industrial society has been
    confronted with threats to human life on an
    unprecedented scale
  • Environmental catastrophe
  • Nuclear power
  • Biological weapons

  • Beck argues that whereas natural risks
    (uncertainties) were calculable and manageable
  • In risk society calculation, management, and
    insurance all fail. Risks are no longer
    localized, visible, and easily containable.
  • Contemporary risks have the following key
  • They are not limited in time and space
  • They can be catastrophic
  • Mechanisms of social insurance are inadequate
    (welfare provision)

The Chernobyl disaster
  • The Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the Ukraine in
    1996 is a case in point the risks were not
    localized no one country could manage them the
    risks posed are to future generations.

Please read the report Chernobyl accident and

  • Chernobyl was a catastrophic event, the effects
    of which were not limited in time and space, and
    against which mechanisms of protection and
    compensation were totally inadequate
  • Please read the article Chernobyl still haunts
    hill farms which can be found at
  • Why do you think 180,000 sheep in Wales remained
    affected by radioactive fall-out 17 years after
    the disaster?
  • What does this tell us about the nature of risk?

The extent of Chernobyl fallout
  • In industrial society risks were evident to the
  • Today, many risks escape immediate perception
  • radiation
  • toxic chemicals
  • pollution
  • GM food

  • In addition, risks are increasingly contested
  • GM food is a good example industry, governments
    and farmers argued that no risk attaches to
    genetically modified foods, while the banking
    sector withdrew from investing in biotechnology
    and supermarkets banned GM food from their
    shelves in view of the European publics
    perception of genetic engineering as a high risk
    technology (Strydom, 2002 60).
  • Scientists have lost authority over risk
    assessment and risk calculations can be
    challenged by pressure groups and activists
  • Beck says that there is a struggle over the
    meaning of risk between those who produce them
    (experts) and those who consume them (public)

  • Please read the following articles
  • Pollution fears over sperm count
  • Rural mobile phone use riskier
  • Worried consumers 'shun GM foods'http//news.bbc
  • Mobile phones tumour risk to young children,
  • What do these articles tell us about the
    contested nature of risk assessment?
  • Who can we trust when looking for guidance?

Concluding section
  • Poverty is hierarchical, smog is democratic
  • In industrial society the impact of poverty was
    experienced differentially
  • Risk cannot be mapped onto class
  • Even the rich and powerful are not safe from risk

  • For Beck, risk society is closely related to
  • Many risks have an obvious global dimension
  • Pollution
  • Global warming
  • Nuclear power
  • New communities of risk can be created across
    national borders communities of danger
  • Global problems demand global solutions
  • Risk society is also world risk society

  • This is related to the idea of reflexive
  • In risk society, society becomes more reflexive
    (self-criticism of society intensifies) and
    society acts to change itself
  • One (positive) outcome of this reflexivity is
    that we recognise the need to develop cooperative
    international institutions (e.g. the UNs Kyoto
    Protocol) http//unfccc.int/essential_background/k
  • Industrial society comes to see itself as risk

  • Whereas class society was dominated by idea of
    (in)equality and welfare, risk society is
    dominated by the idea of safety.
  • Beck says, The dream of class society is that
    everyone wants and ought to have a share of the
    pie. The utopia of the risk society is that
    everyone should be spared from poisoning (Beck,
    1992 49)

  • The driving force in the class society can be
    summarized in the phrase I am hungry! The
    movement set in motion by the risk society, on
    the other hand, is expressed by the statement I
    am afraid! (Beck, 1992 49)
  • Communities of need have given way to communities
    of anxiety
  • Insecurity has replaced scarcity

  • Beck, U. 1992 Risk Society towards a new
    modernity. London Sage.
  • Beck, U. 1999 World Risk Society. Cambridge
    Polity Press.
  • Dean, M. 1999 Governmentality power and rule in
    modern society. London Sage.
  • Denney, D. 2005 Risk and Society. London Sage.
  • Lupton, D. 1999 Risk. London Routledge
  • Mythen, G. 2004 Ulrich Beck a Critical
    Introduction to the Risk Society. London Pluto
  • Strydom, P. 2002 Risk, environment and society.
    Buckingham Open University Press.
  • http//www.theorycards.org.uk/
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