Ulrich Beck

(b. 1944)

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Germansociologist best known for developing the concept of risk society (Risikogesellschaft). Beck was born in Stolp, which is now known as Slupsk and is in Poland, but was then under German control. He studied for his undergraduate and postgraduate degrees at Munich University, which is where he obtained his first job as well. In 1979 he moved to Münster and from there to Bamberg in 1981, where he remained for a decade. He then returned to Munich. He also holds a concurrent position at the London School of Economics. Beck first came to international attention with the publication of Risikogesellschaft: Auf dem Weg in eine andere Moderne (1986), translated as Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity (1992). Appearing shortly after the disaster at Chernobyl, Risk Society offered an attractive theory of society rendered vulnerable by its technological sophistication. Beck's argument is that more and more decisions affecting daily life are being made in what he terms the sub-political realms of business and bureaucracy, a fact that threatens the quality if not the existence of democracy: for instance, the decision to place a road in one place and not another is a bureaucratic one, requiring minimal input from the people affected by the decision. In more recent work, such as Was ist Globalisierung? (1997), translated as What is Globalization? (2000), and Der kosmopolitische Blick oder: Krieg ist Frieden (2004), translated as The Cosmopolitan Vision (2006), Beck has extended this thesis to the state of the entire planet, giving his theory both an epochal and global dimension. Describing the present situation as ‘second modernity’ (a deliberate refusal of the term postmodernity), which in his view sits alongside ‘first modernity’, Beck argues that the potential for a new cosmopolitanism can be seen in twin drivers of the expansion of capital and the relaxing of territorial borders. But, as he is also careful to point out, cosmopolitanism in this form is not free from the effects of depoliticization he described in Risk Society—it too must confront the fact that business and bureaucracy can impose changes on society that society itself has no wish to see implemented.

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies.

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