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date: 27 May 2024

risk society (Risikogesellschaft) 

A Dictionary of Critical Theory

Ian Buchanan

German sociologist Ulrich *Beck’s term for the present situation (which in Beck’s view began to take shape in the aftermath of World War II), which in his view is defined by the expansion of uncontrollable risks, i.e. risks which have no straightforward or direct cause and therefore no obvious or easy means of attenuation (climate change is the best-known example of such a risk). Beck is particularly concerned with new types of risk that have arisen—or may arise in the future—as a consequence of human action. The issue is not so much that the world has become inherently more dangerous than it used to be, although that is in fact one of the implications of Beck’s thesis, but rather that the nature of the threats we face now has changed—they have become, in Beck’s terms, ‘de-bounded’ in spatial, temporal, and social terms: risks are no longer bound by regional or even national boundaries, but are frequently global in scope; risks may have long latency periods such that the actual cause of particular threats may lie in the distant past or as is the case with nuclear material may stay with us for thousands of years; and because of these spatial and temporal unboundings it has become difficult to assign responsibility in a legally relevant fashion. Although global in scope, risks plainly do not affect everyone and every part of the world equally—e.g. as catastrophic as ... ...

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