Risk Society

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1. Theory, Culture & Society Theory, Culture & Society caters for the resurgence of interest in culture within contemporary social science and the humanities.…
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  • 1. Theory, Culture & Society Theory, Culture & Society caters for the resurgence of interest in culture within contemporary social science and the humanities. Building on the heritage of classical social theory, the book series examines ways in which this tradition has been reshaped by a new generation of theorists. It will also publish theoretically informed analyses of everyday life, popular culture, and new intellectual movements. EDITOR: Mike Featherstone, University of Teesside SERIES EDlTORlAL BOARD Roy Boyne, University of Northumbria at Newcastle Mike Hepworth, University of Aberdeen Scott Lash, University of Lancaster Roland Robertson, University of Pittsburgh Bryan S. Turner, University of Esex Also in this series Tbe Tourist Gaze Leisure and Travel in Contemporary Societies John Urry Tbe Body Sociai Process and Cultural Theory edited by Mike Featherstone, Mike Hepworth und Bryan S. Turner Images of Postmodern Society Social Theory and Contemporary Cinema Norman K. Denzin Promotional Culture Advertising, Ideology and Symbolic Expression Andrew Wernick Cultural Theory and Cultural Change Feminism, Youth and Consumerism Mica Nava Globalization Social Theory and Global Culture Roland Robertson Risk Society Towards a New Modernity Ulrich Beck Max Weber and the Sociology of Culture Ralph Schroeder
  • 2. RlSK SOCIETY Towards a New Modernity ULRICH BECK translated by Mark Ritter SAGE Publications London Newbury Park New Delhi
  • 3. OriginaUy published as Risikogdkhqjt: AAyf dem Weg In eine andere Moderne O Suhrkamp Verlag. Frankfuri am Main, 1986 This translation O Ssge hiblications, 1992 This edition first pubiished 1992 Introduction 0 Scott Lash and Brian Wynne, 1992 W rights rcscrved. No part of this pubiication may be reproduced, stored in a rctricvaisystmi. transmitted or utiiizui in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photowpying, rccording or othawise, without permission in writing from the Pubiishers. SAGE Pubiications Ltd @ 6 B o W S t r e ~ t London EC2A 4PU SAGE Publications Inc 2455 Teiler Road Newbury Park, Caiifornia 91320 SAGE Pubiications India Pvt Ltd 32, M-Block Markct Greater Kailash - I New Delhi 110048 k k , Ulrich Risk Socicty: Towards a New Moddty. - Cnicory, Cultun & Sodcty Series) I. Title 11. Ritter, Mark 111. Series 306 ISBN 0-8039-8345-X ISBN 0-8039-8346-8 @bk) Typcset by Mayhcw Typcactting. Rhayader, Powys Printed in Great Britain by DotesiosLtd. Trowbridgc, Wiltshire
  • 4. CONTENTS Introduction Scott Lash und Brian Wynne Preface PART I Living on the Volcano of Civilization: the Contours of the Risk Society Chapter 1 On the Logic of Wealth Distribution and Risk Distribution Chapter 2 The Politics of Knowledge in the Risk Society PART I1 The Individualization of Social InequaUty: Life Forms and the Demise of Tradition Chapter 3 Beyond Status and Class? Chapter 4 'I am I': Gendered Space and Conflict Inside and Outside the Family Chapter 5 Individualization, Institutionalization and I Standardization: Life Situations and Biographical Patterns Chapter 6 Destandardization of Labor Chapter 7 Science beyond Truth and Englightenment? Chapter 8 Opening up the Political PART 111 Reflexive Modernization: on the Generalization of Science and PoUtics Bibliography Index
  • 5. INTRODUCTION Ulrich Beck's Risk Society is already one of the most influential European works of social analysis in the late twentieth century. Risikogesellschqft was published in German in 1986. In its first five years it sold some 60,000 copies. Only a very few books in post-war social science have realized that sort of figure, and most of those have been textbooks. Risk Society is most defmitely not a textbook. In the German speaking world - in terms of impact both across disciplines and on the lay public - comparison is probably best made with Habermas's Strukturwandel der Offentllchkeit, published in German some twenty-five years before Beck's book, though only released in English as The Transformation of the Public Sphere in 1989. But Beck's book has had an enormous influence. First, it had little short of a meteoric impact on institutional social science. In 1990 the biannual conference of the German Sociological Association was entitled 'The Modernization of Modernization?' in oblique reference to Beck's thesis of reflexive modernization. Risk Society further played a leading role in the recasting of public debates in German ecological politics. Ulrich Beck is not just a social scientist but what the Germans call a Schriftsteller, a word that loses much of its meaning when translated into English as essayist or non-fiction writer. The personal and essayistic style of Risikogesellschqft- though it is a quite accessible book in the German -has made it an irnmensely difficult book to translate. And Mark Ritter, elsewhere a translator of Simmel, has done a heroic job here. Beck, as Schriftsteller and public sphere social scientist, writes regularly in the FranlCfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. There is no equivalent of this in the Anglo-American world, and one is reminded of a continental European tradition in which Walter Benjamin once wrote regularly for the same Frankfurt newspaper and Raymond Aron for Le Figaro. This said, Risk Society consists of two central interrelated theses. One concerns reflexive modernization and the other the issue of risk. Let us address these sequentially. Reflexive Modernization There is something apt in the above mentioned jwtaposition of Beck's work on risk society and Habermas's on the public sphere. In a very important way Habermas first gave bones in this early seminal work to what would later be his theory of modernization. Beck of Course makes no claims to the sort of theoretical depth and weight that Habermas has
  • 6. RlSK SOCIETY achieved. Yet his theory of reflexive modernization can potentially provide the foundation for the rejection and recasting of Habermas's notion of modernization as Enlightenment project. Theories of 'simrile' modernization, from Habermas to Marx to main- strearn Parsonian sociology, all share a sort of utopic evolutionism, whether its motor be communicative rationality, the development of the means of production, or structural differentiation and functional integra- tion. Beck sees another, darker dimension to such developments and especially in the constitutive role assigned to science and knowledge. For Beck the consequences of scientific and industrial development are a set of risks and hazards, the likes of which we have never previously faced. These dangers can, for example, no longer be limited in time - as future generations are affected. Their spatial consequences are equally not arnenable to limitation - as they Cross national boundaries. Unlike in an earlier modernity, no one can be held accountable for the hazards of the 'risk society'. Further, it is becoming impossible to compensate those whose lives have been touched by those hazards, as their very calculability becomes problematized. Yet given this seemingly dystopian outcome of rationalization, Beck does not succumb to the pessimism of a Weber, or Foucault or Adorno. His claim is that these effets pervers of modernization can potentially be dealt with, not through the negation, but through the radicalization of such rationalization. In order for societies really to evolve, he maintains, modernization must become reflexive. This sort of reflexivity, for Beck, is not to be abstractly located in some sort of hypothetical ideal speech situation. It is already becoming operative in the critique of science developing not just in the Green movement, but in the broad masses of the lay public. This critique, expressed as it is in diverse forms, is reflexive and can lay a moral claim to rationality which is equal to that of modern science. In the public domain, science inexorably tends to refute itself as its culture of scientism creates false claims and expectations in society at large. Though Beck's theory of reflexive modernization has its origins in the sociology and critique of scientific knowledge, it is applicable right through society. Modernization involves not just structural change, but a changing relationship between social structures and social agents. When modernization reaches a certain level, agents tend to become more individualized, that is, decreasingly constrained by structures. In effect structural change forces social actors to become progressively more free from structure. And for modernization successfully to advance, these agents must release themselves from structural constraint and actively shape the modernization process. The historical Passage from tradition to modernity was supposed to uncover a social world free of choice, individualism and liberal democracy, based on rational 'enlightened' self-interest. Yet the post- modern critique has exposed how modernity itself imposes constraints of
  • 7. a traditional kind - culturally imposed, not freely chosen - around the quasi-religious modern icon of science. Its cultural form is scientism, which sociologists of science argue is an intrinsic element of science as public knowledge. The culture of scientism has in effect imposed identity upon social actors by demanding their identification with particular social institutions and their ideologies, notably in constructions of risk, but also in definitions of sanity, proper sexual behavior, and countless other 'rational' frames of modern social control. Ulrich Beck's origins are as a hard-working and - until recently - a not particularly celebrated sociologist specializing in research on industry and the family. For him, reflexive modernization is also proceeding in these spheres. Thus structural change in the private sphere results in the individualization of social agents who then are forced to make decisions about whether and whom they shall marry, whether they shall have children, what sort of sexual preference they might have. Individuals must then, free of these structures, reflexively construct their own biographies. In the sphere of work the process of structural change leads to indivi- dualization in two senses, through the decline first of class structure and second of the structural order of the Taylorist workplace. The resultant individualization again Opens up a situation where individuals reflect upon and flexibly restructure the rules and resources of the workplace and of their leisure time. The subtitle of Beck's Risk Society is Towarak a New Modernity. He is referring here to an essentially three-stage periodization of social change. This comprises first pre-modernity, then simple modernity, and finally reflexive modernity. On this view, modernity is very much coexten- sive with industrial society and the new reflexive modernity with the risk society. Industrial society and risk society are for Beck distinct social formations. The axial principle of industrial society is the distribution of goods, while that of the risk society is the distribution of 'bads' or dangers. Further, industrial society is structured through social classes while the risk society is individualized. Yet the risk society, Beck persists in maintaining, is still, and at the Same time, an industrial society. And that is because it is mainly industry, in conjunction with science, that is involved in the creation of the risk society's risks. The Problem of Risk Risk has become an intellectual and political web across which thread many strands of discourse relating to the slow crisis of modernity and industrial society. Whilst the champions of post-modernity claim trium- phantly that the cultural-political hegemony of scientism and its one- dimensional modernity is finished, others question how far this is true, let alone what the societal implications might be of rampant subjectivism in its post-modern form. The dominant discourses of risk, for all they have taken on the trappings
  • 8. RlSK SOCIETY of liberal pluraiism, remain firmly instrumentaiist and reductionist. To the extent that they allow other forms of experience such as public skep- ticism into their 'rational' modernist frame, they do so only on sufferance and not as a meeting with other legitimate form of life. Indeed the dominant risk paradigms have been able to surround them- selves with the appearance (and self-delusion) of critical pluralistic debate and learning, through the growth of a plethora of disciplines, sub- disciplines and schools of thought vigorously competing for ascendancy and recognition in the interpretation and 'management' of the risks of modern technological society. Yet the criticai force of all this fervent intellectual activity is radically and systematically constrained by its cultural heritage and unreflective idiom (not to mention its forms of patronage and institutional orientations). Risks are defined as the probabilities of physical harm due to given technological or other processes. Hence technical experts are given pole position to define agendas and impose bounding premises a priori on risk discourses. A small group of sociologists and anthropologists from beyond the cultural pale of this hegemony have made three observations in particular. First, such physical risks are always created and effected in social Systems, for example by organizations and institutions which are supposed to manage and control the risky activity. Second, the magnitude of the physical risks is therefore a direct function of the quality of social rela- tions and processes. Third, the primary risk, even for the most technically intensive activities (indeed perhaps most especially for them), is therefore that of social dependency upon institutions and actors who may well be - and arguably are increasingly - alien, obscure and inaccessible to most people affected by the risks in question. Thus the issues of trust and credibility have been raised in the risk field, in a way connected to the trust issue as discussed by Anthony Giddens and others in relation to late modernity and its problems. Yet the treat- ment of this novel dimension has been itself revealing, as the fuller depth of the problem has been reduced and coopted into the prevailing instru- mental terms, as to how institutions can adapt procedures and self- presentation in order to secure or repair credibility, without fundamen- tally questioning the forms of power or social control involved. The modern sub-field of risk communication exemplifies this baneful defence against reflexivity. Although in the risk field the social dimension of trust has been proposed as crucial for ten years or more, this has been resisted and redefined; now the very different but convergent work of Beck and Giddens has reinforced it. Reflexivity is excluded from the social and political interactions between experts and social groups over modern risks, because of the systematic assumption of realism in science. Contemporary examples abound. When farm workers claimed that herbicides were causing unacceptable health effects, the British government asked its Pesticides Advisory Committee to investigate. The PAC, composed largely of toxicologists, turned
  • 9. automatically to the scientific literature on laboratory toxicology of the chemicals in question. They concluded unequivocally that there was no risk. When the farm workers returned with an even thicker dossier of cases of medical harm, the PAC dismissed this as merely anecdotal, uncontrolled non-knowledge. When they were forced by further public objections to return to the question, the PAC again asserted that there was no danger, but this time added an apparently minor, but actually crucial qualification. This was that there was no risk according to the science literature, so long as the herbicide was produced under the correct conditions (dioxins could be produced as contaminants by small variations in production process parameters) and used under the correct conditions. On this latter question the f a m workers were the experts. They knew from experience that 'the correct conditions of use' were a scientists' fantasy - 'Cloud-cuckoo-land from behind the laboratory bench' as one farmers' representative put it. The instructions for use were frequently obliterated or lost, the proper spraying equipment was often unavailable, protective clothing was often inadequate, and weather conditions were frequently ignored in the pressure to get the spraying done. The idealized model of the risk System, reflected in the scientists' exclusive focus on the laboratory knowledge, contained not only question- able physical assumptions but a naive model of that Part of society. What is more it was deployed in effect as a social prescription, without any interest or negotiation over its validity or acceptability. The completely unreflective imposition of these bounding premises on the risk debate only polarized the issue around the realist distraction concerning the truth value of scientificpropositions, and polemic about the alleged irrationality of the farm workers and corruption of scientists and regulatory institutions. A reflexive learning process would have recognized the conditions under- pinning the scientific conclusions, drawn out the social situational ques- tions which they implied, and examined these with the benefit inter alia of the different forms of knowledge held by people other than scientists. This reflexive learning process would have necessarily meant negotiation between different epistemologiesand subcultural forms, amongst different discourses; and as such it would have entailed the development of the social or moral identities of the actors involved. Even in the most apparently technical risk arenas, therefore, there is important sociological work to be done. With a few exceptions, socio- logists have been timid and complacent in the face of this pervasive apologia for the (always temporary but incessantly extended) repair of modernity. Whilst from the well padded armchairs of the Seminar rooms of Paris, modernity may appear dead and nearly buried, and reflexivity may be thriving as a collective form of discourse, the conditions of ordinary life for many may call this into question, both as a general account of the present and as a model of the future by diffusion outwards and (it seems) downwards from the vanguard intelligentsia.
  • 10. RlSK SOCIETY Ulrich Beck is one of the few theoreticaliy informed sociologists who have escaped this wider tendency towards timidity or complacent ethno- centrism, and grappled with some central dimensions of the role of risk discourses in structuring, reproducing and repairing the modernist historical project. The theme of reflexive modernization corresponds closely with the outline from the example above, of a reflexive learning process which could be advanced in contemporary risk conflicts instead of deepening the crisis of legitimation of modern institutions, locked as they are in their modernistic delusions. Whereas post-modernism implies the wholesale abandonment of scientific-instrumental modes of thought, and modernism grants them grotesquely inflated and unconditional power, reflexive modernization confronts and tries to accommodate the essential tension between human indeterminacy - as reflected in the incessant but always Open attempt to renegotiate coherent narratives of identity - and the inevitable tendency to objectify and naturalize our institutional and cultural productions. An important issue for sociologists and anthropologists which is raised by Beck's perspective concerns the sources of reflexivity. One approach is to conclude that the religion of science secularizes itself, is pushed thro
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