- Risk society
"Risk society" is a term used to describe a society that is organized in response to
risk. According to sociologist Anthony Giddens, it is "a society increasingly preoccupied with the future (and also with safety), which generates the notion of risk" (Giddens 1999: 3) Risk can be defined in the risk society as a systematic way of dealing with hazards and insecurities induced and introduced by modernizationitself (Beck 1992: 21).
While humans have always been subjected to a level of risk, modern society is exposed to a particular type of risk that is the result of the modernization process itself, altering social organization. There are risks such as
natural disastersthat have always had negative effects on human populations, but these are seen to be produced by non-human forces. Modern risks, on the other hand, are the product of human activity. These two different types of risk can be referred to as external risksand manufactured risks(Giddens, 1999). A risk society is predominantly concerned with manufactured risks. The marked difference between the two is that there is a significant level of human agencyoperating in the production and mitigation of manufactured risks.
manufactured risksare the product of human activity, there is the potential to assess the level of risk that is being produced, or that is about to be produced. As a result, risks have transformed the modernization process itself. With the introduction of human caused disasters such as Chernobyland the Love CanalCrisis, public faith in the modern project has declined (a claim that has not been independently verified within all population groupsFact|date=July 2008) leaving a variable trust in industry, governmentand experts(Giddens 1990). The increased critique of modern industrial practices has resulted in a state of reflexive modernization. Concepts that demonstrate reflexive modernization are sustainabilityand the precautionary principlethat focus on preventative measures to decrease levels of risk.
Social relations have changed with the introduction of manufactured risks and reflexive modernization.
Risks, much like wealth, are distributed unevenly in a population and will influence quality of life. People will occupy social risk positionsthat are achieved through aversion, which differs from wealth positions that are gained through accumulation. 'In some of their dimensions these follow the inequalities of class and strata positions, but they bring a fundamentally different distribution logic into play' (Beck 1992: 23). Beck contends that widespread risks contain a 'boomerang effect' in that individuals producing risks will also be exposed to them. This observation suggests that wealthy individuals whose capitalis largely responsible for creating pollutionwill also have to suffer when, for example, the contaminants seep into the water supply. This argument may seem oversimplified, as wealthy people may have the ability to mitigate risk more easily by, for example, buying bottled water. However, the argument is that the distribution of the risk originates from knowledgeas opposed to wealth. While the wealthy person may have access to resources that enable him or her to avert risk, it would not even be an option were the person unaware that the risk even existed, and therefore risk position is fundamentally dependent on knowledgeand access to information, which may or may not correlateto economicstatus, but often does.
* Ericson, R.V. & K. Haggerty. 1997. "Policing the Risk Society." Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Anthony Giddens(1990) "Consequences of Modernity". Cambridge: Polity Press
Anthony Giddens(1999) “Risk and Responsibility” "Modern Law Review" 62(1): 1-10.
Beck, Ulrich(1992) "Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity". New Delhi: Sage. (Translated from the German "Risikogesellschaft" [http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Risikogesellschaft] published in 1986
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