Risk Society – Ulrich Beck (1986 original German, translation 1992 by Mark Ritter)

Risk Society – Ulrich Beck (1986 original German, translation 1992 by Mark Ritter)

Beck says science in the post Feudal, post Industrial era (part of the Modern era) has produced risks which are impossible to understand fully, but potentially extraordinarily dangerous (even without mentioning climate change!, in 1986) thus creating a new scepticism about science.  For each such ‘risk’ science must come up with a ‘cure’, but its responses can never be whole since the risks are so potentially dangerous (and virtually impossible to understand in their complexity anyway, as is Beck/Ritter’s sentence structure, perhaps by influence from his analysis, or maybe the other way around).

This situation has led to a disempowerment of traditional representative democracy by ‘democratizing’ analysis and action through to the wider society (“reflexive modernizations”), especially to corporations (my suggestion). Thus describes the new ‘Risk Society’.

p.25 (Chapter 1)

“different meanings for different people”, “consumer reservoirs which people have become in the advanced state of total marketing”,  “the insignificances can add up quite significantly”


“hazards neither visible nor perceptible to the victims”, “Three Mile Island . . . imperceptibly abandon the victims completely to the judgements, mistakes and controversies of experts, while subjecting them to terrible psychological stresses”.


“Social movements raise questions that are unanswered by the risk technicians at all, and the technicians answer questions which miss the point of what is really asked . . .”

p.52 (Chapter 2)

“. . . contrasts today with the intangibility of threats from civilization, which only come to consciousness in scientized thought, and cannot be directly related to primary experience.”

p.177 (Chapter 7) – Infallibility or the Ability to Learn (*)

“The ‘safest’ thing is ultimately the immeasurable; nuclear bombs and energy with their threats surpassing all concepts and imaginative abilities.” (Ed.  Climate Change is similar, but different in that actions and changes have become known after all this time through the efforts of environmental and social civil society groups, with help from science, for sure – don’t want to leave out science.  The widespread desire to ignore climate change comes not from the unknown (the resort to the unknown in debate is more of an excuse), but from the known:  the terrifying changes required to address it.

(*) Ed. Wes Jackson of the Land Institute in Kansas (a new agriculture based on nature’s processes) points out that humans are and always will be mostly ignorant of our world, much more than knowledgeable.   If we humbly understand this then we are more likely to notice new things, create new approaches, etc..  This is especially important, in my view, because in an era of fundamental change and fast change such as today, cultural, historical influences which are often missed in the ‘pace of continuity’ (my term) of our world will potentially (certainly!) become more visible if we don’t put a great deal of effort into ignoring them as is dominating in local ways (Tea Party, USA; John ‘Foggy” Key, NZ) today.

p.234 (Chapter 8)

“Enabling (ed. legislative protection) self-criticism in all its forms is not some form of danger, but probably the only way that the mistakes that would sooner or later destroy our world can be detected in advance.” (Ed.  This is the challenge of climate change the same as nuclear weapons.  Which response will the human experiment have – take action to change, or aggressively attack the messenger?)


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