Ulrich Beck and Risk Society

Ulrich Beck’s “living in the world risk society” was a difficult read for me due to his long-winded syntax and use of vocabulary I’m as yet unfamiliar with. I think it would have been helpful to have a clearer definition of risk early on in the lecture/reading.

I can appreciate that he starts with a question the lecture doesn’t ultimately answer (how to live in a world risk society?) due to the complexity of potential answers. His analysis of factors that contribute to how we perceive of risk in differing societies and how politicians and media affect these perceptions helped me understand a bit more of the concepts surrounding risk theory. Some of his comments, though, I wanted to push back against.

For example, on page 336, Beck explains that a risk society produces a ‘tragic individualization’ where ‘individualization is a default outcome of a failure of expert systems to manage risks’, resulting in ‘people [being] thrown back onto themselves’. He goes on to explain this through the example of an individual’s response to genetically modified goods and the pressure placed on consumers to make choices about good food. The consumer ‘is blind to dangers, [yet] remains at the same time unable to escape the power of definition of expert systems, whose judgment he cannot, yet must trust’. I am unconvinced that this situation produces a tragically individualized society. In the immediate society I participate in and in the wider world of news and media, I see more people turning to each other to discuss, criticize, and express frustrations over such circumstances as the one Beck describes. I do not see individuals depending on themselves. I would argue that people tend not to turn inward for solutions for risk, but rather seek out the opinions of others as we try to understand what risks are for the nation or one’s immediate political, religious, or social group.

Overall, after rereading the piece, I found it much more interesting and engaging, especially after class discussion.

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