LIVING IN A WORLD RISK SOCIETY ( SUMMARY ) – ULRICH BECK

Living in a society we may encounter several kinds of risks, these risks can be ecological (relation of living organisms to one another) and financial (relating to finance). In the debate about the climate change after the discovery of CFCs, chemists Rowland and Molina put forth that CFCs destroy the ozone layer which results in ultraviolet rays, these rays reach earth and destroy the environment, here lies the irony that when these coolants were invented nobody knew that it will lead a major role in global warming. The more we tend to ignore the risk, the more the risk increases. There is an irony when we speak about the risk. Global risk is the human condition which mankind is dealing with in the 21st century.

Risk is present widely and there are three possible reactions to risks that are denial (inscribed in modern culture), apathy (post-modern nihilism) or transformation (a component of the cosmopolitan moment). According to Hannah Arendt, the shock of danger lies in fundamental mixed ideas about global risks, which open new difficulties and problems for the world. It is a call for a new beginning. So, in short, there are two contradictory views within us that are self-destructiveness and the ability to begin something new. These three steps include 1) old danger, 2) ruse of the history (extent of the global risk), and 3) consequences.

OLD DANGERS- NEW RISKS: WHAT IS NEW ABOUT THE WORLD RISK SOCIETY?

The society we live in today is full of risks. Risk itself does not mean that some danger or misfortune will happen. Risk means the prediction of misfortune and the danger which will be likely to happen. They are not real but are becoming real for example terrorist attacks tend to become real and bring danger and misfortune. They are threatening. Mass media, techniques of visualisation, and symbolic forms have helped risks to spread to the world so that the risks can be predicted and measures can be taken to minimise them. Risk is a socially constructed phenomenon. Risk definition is a powerful game, as in order to define risk one is minimising his risk but maximising the others and exposing them to risk. There are positive and negative consequences of human decisions and interventions. Modern societies are shaped with new kinds of risks their foundation is predicted as global anticipation and global catastrophe. There are three features which describe global risk.

  1. De-localization: There is no one particular location but the risks are present widely everywhere. It also takes place at three levels spatial( no boundaries can happen anywhere), Temporal ( the effect of the risk cannot be determined), and social.
  2. Incalculableness: The consequences cannot be calculated from a particular risk, because they are not based on science. This infers of not knowing to risk calculation
  3. Non-compensatibility: It involves prevention over compensation and also trying to anticipate and prevent risks whose existence has not been proven.

From trustee to suspect: There is an interdependence of global risks, which cannot be addressed by national politics and other organisations. The perception changes from trustee to suspect, they are not seen as risk management but as the sources of risk.

Tragic individualization: There is individualization in the risk society and the individual must cope with the uncertainty of the global around him/her. When the risk actually comes they are alienated from the expert systems and they had to face the world individually. The theory of world risk addresses the increasing realizations of radical uncertainty about the modern world. Reflexive modernity means we live in the more modern world but not in the postmodern world. This is the victory of modernity.

THE RUSE OF RISK

Global risk is an unpredictable force in the contemporary world. There are six components which explain the cosmopolitan moment of world risk society such as 1) involuntary enlightenment,2) enforced communication,3) the political power of catharsis, 4) enforced cosmopolitanism, 5) risk as a wakeup call, 6) the possibility of an alternative government in a globalized world.

Involuntary Enlightenment: This happens when an event or any disaster gets exposed to the public and reaches to masses through media, television etc which creates involuntary enlightenment.

Enforced communication across all differences and borders: Risk is considered a voluntary compulsory medium of communication in a world of visible differences. Global risks enforce involuntary democratization, these involve the participation of people and public involvement.

Political catharsis: There are changes when there is a removal of an old political feud or agenda and a new come. For example when two earthquakes one after the other reconciled the two traditional enemies who were in a feud for 180 years.

Enforced cosmopolitanism: The history of risk corresponds to the history of the race. Global risks activate and connect across the border. Throughout history, cosmopolitanism has the characteristics of being elite, idealistic, capitalistic etc. In a world of risk, society’s cosmopolitanism opens an eye to uncontrollable liabilities and helps to build something new for the future.

Global risks serve as a wakeup call in the face of the failure of the government in the globalized world: when global risk on any incident happens it gives rise to debatable questions on the part of the government, and risk society must be regarded and evaluated as a historic refutation of the neoliberal conception of the state.

Possibility of alternative government: There are two premises 1) the world risk society brings a new historic key to fight with the problems and to cope with the risks, as no nation can alone cope with its problems alone. 2) There should be a realistic alternative in the global age of power. The expression “cosmopolitan realpolitik” means that the nation’s interest must be pursued by the nation’s interest.

The nation-state frame of reference which Beck called methodological nationalism prevents sociology from the understanding dynamics, conflicts and ironies of risk society. Mary Douglas and Foucault have different traditions of theoretical research which raised several debatable and interesting questions regarding the definitions of risks and risk policies which can only be dispensed with the social science risk research. The objective can be achieved by opening up of risk battle by redefining state and scientific power. Global risks are producing ‘failed states’.  In the world risk societies, the state structure is often described as inefficient and has a prominent feature of post-democratic authority. Cosmopolitan sociology faces certain challenges of global risks, society and its institutions are incapable of conceptualizing risks because of modernity, and nation-state modernity which has become inappropriate.

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