Comments on Beck, Risk Society

Date: Thu, 22 Feb 1996 9:35:32 +0900 (JST) From:

As said in the previous message, I have recently been reading a couple of very scary books. The more general work is _Risk Society_ by German sociologist Ulrich Beck who develops the proposition that while the classic social issue of early modernization [which, as an anthropologist, I recognized started with the neolithic] is the distribution of wealth and thus the division of society along visible class lines, today's world is one in which the central issue will increasingly be the distribution of risk, i.e., exposure to nuclear and chemical pollution, which remains invisible until damage is done and is, knowable in advance only through sharply contested scientific procedures, and, ultimately, is indifferent to the wealth or poverty of its victims. This last is not to say that there is no correlation between class and risk; toxic waste dumping in third world countries, the location of incinerators, sewage facilities and pollution-generating factories in working-class neighborhoods are obvious counterexamples. But as either Los Angeles or Taipei shows too well, smog, for example, cannot be confined to these neighborhoods.

Again, if anyone knows of serious reviews, or has personal opinions, concerning Beck's work, please respond.

John McCreery
February 22, 1996

Date: Fri, 23 Feb 96 09:35:14 +0100
From: Thomas Diez <>

>Again, if anyone knows of serious reviews, or has personal opinions,
>concerning Beck's work, please respond.
Ulrich Beck is one of the leading German sociologists, occupying a chair in sociology in at Munich University. There are tons of reviews and pieces of debate in German. I once came across a book on reflective sociology in English with contribution(s) by Beck. If you speak German: Beck regularly publishes articles in the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung". His latest book has been "Die Erfindung des Politischen", or "The Invention of the Political". Here, he is not as depressive about the future as your reading of Risk Society. He plays with the Kadinsky-idea of "either/or"-views changing into "and"-views. In politics, this means a change from clear friend/foe-distinctions (and from territorial politics, if I as an International Relations Theory guy may stress) to changing patterns of participation. The point about Risk Society, to my opinion, is that one cannot approach "the world" in a third-person-way. One is always included in what follows. Beck's latest articles have often dealt with a new style of politics, exemplified by the Greenpeace Brent Spar action. I would read this as a construction of a different kind of politics where Greenpeace stands for a non-territorial organization trying to deal "with" the world while recognizing their existence "in" the world. Not that this is new, but Beck is one of those who is able to put these ideas into good, readable writing.

Thomas Diez

Thomas Diez
Mannheim Centre for European Social Research Mannheimer Zentrum fuer Europaeische Sozialforschung Steubenstrasse
D-68131 Mannheim
Tel. ++49-(0)621-292-8465
Fax. ++49-(0)621-292-8435


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