Risk Towards a New Society

One of the central aspects of Beck’s argument is the importance of modernity in the construction of the globalized risk society. Implicit within this charge is the notion of velocity and acceleration along channels of communication and development. His primary focus on the extreme integration of the world is an optimistic one. He sees the potential within globalized risk and its concomitant catastrophes as a unifying force capable of engendering a certain cosmopolitanism. The basic logic is that catastrophes are no longer localized and the scope that they operate on not only disregards territory, but demolishes it. The cooperation is somewhat forced at this stage, but he believes that it could contain the kernel of a restructured global posture. Beck notes that in the wake of some catastrophes, new institutional forces can arise that move towards an “impure” cosmopolitanism, one that while still an optimistic position is divorced from the notion of “pure” philosophical cosmopolitanism.

However, the logic behind this assertion does not flow neatly. He argues that catastrophe draws attention to the issues of the world risk society and that modernity allows for a polyvocality to emerge, composed of groups that prior would be excluded from consideration in these of events. He fails to draw a conclusive  link between the awareness of catastrophe and the necessity of a globalized response. In fact, despite his claims of not-knowing, his argument seems to gesture towards the normative and obligatory cosmopolitanism he claims is not at work. His claims that actors are begrudgingly brought into interaction does not seem to engage with the highly provisional nature of these arrangements. An alliance formed on the basis of catastrophe is not one of mutual interest at all. As he claims, the neo-liberal impulse and the saturation of global capitalism seem to be key drivers in relationships between nation-states, but his article does not explain the transition between a neo-liberal and global civil society other than with the notion that risk renders capital functionally valueless. It’s certainly a very interesting article, especially its optimism, but as he himself admits, there is no certainty even when just discussing risk. Like risk itself, it appears that the societies he describes are diffuse and exist in fields of potentialization, taking on accidental properties only as an emergent function. Like catastrophe, these societies come into form as events, as ruptures.

Remaining is the question of whether or not omnipresent risk will actually usher a new global cosmopolitan structure or if it will just recede back into the medium that bore it. Will society move into a new age of global/local relations or will neo-liberalism simply improvise ameliorative measures as necessary?


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