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Risk Society An Overview. Introduction Both Risk Society and Governmentality are macro- oriented theories Cognitive science focuses on the micro level.

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Presentation on theme: "Risk Society An Overview. Introduction Both Risk Society and Governmentality are macro- oriented theories Cognitive science focuses on the micro level."— Presentation transcript:

1 Risk Society An Overview

2 Introduction Both Risk Society and Governmentality are macro- oriented theories Cognitive science focuses on the micro level Both focus on new risks in a new era in history – that is, beginning in the 1950s and 1960s One big difference: Realist/objective vs. relativist/subjective views on risk Cognitive science sort of focuses on both with experts as realists and laypeople as relativists Risk Society – risks are real and constructed; there are real risks, but risks are filtered through culture Governmentality – risks are constructed; the focus is on how elites use risk to govern

3 Stages in Western History Classical antiquity – roughly 800 BC to 476 AD Middle Ages – 476 to roughly 1500; named during the early modern period, people wanted a to make a break from this challenging period in history – Early – (476 to 1000) – High – (1000 to 1300) – Late – (1300 to 1500) – the focus of our reading by Muchembled A period of great upheaval and disaster The Muchembled reading focuses on insecurity (physical and psychological) as well as what people did to deal with a dangerous world (e.g., belief in magic, religion, community) You should be able to describe the risks and how they differ from risks in post-modernity You should also be able to describe what people did to deal with a dangerous world Modernity – Early modern – (1500 to 1800) – Late modern – ( ) – Post-modern – beginning in 1950s and 1960s

4 Stages in Western History Our focus was on how people’s perceptions of risk have changed over these periods (we covered this on the first exam; it is covered in Chapter 2 of our book) These stages are important again as we discuss Risk Society Theory and Governmentality – both focus on changes that have occurred, especially in the post-modern era

5 Risk Society Theory Chapter 3 lays out the basic arguments (in the two short sections that are required reading) Dangers – ‘caused by nature’ (47) Risks – ‘manufactured or fabricated uncertainties’ (47) We have entered a new era where we face unprecedented risks – Ecological – Financial – Terror – Biographical These new risks are the unintended consequences of technology and modernization

6 Risk Society Theory Similarities in the new risks and how they differ from risks in the past (I’m summarizing from chapter 3) – They are side effects of technology and scientific modernization; unintended, self-inflicted consequences of progress – They are not immediately evident to the senses; we often need scientific tests to identify them – The potential magnitude of the disasters is incalculable; they could wipe out the human race – They have long-term effects This makes it difficult to calculate probabilities of risk and they are not manageable by usual strategies Scientists/experts disagree and contradict each other – there is a crisis in science It is difficult to identify who is responsible – The disasters are global in scale They are harder for people to avoid They are not contained in national borders (non-local) – A change is required if the human race is to survive

7 Risk Society Theory Reflexive modernization Two stages – Reflex stage – risks are created by modernization, but they are not recognized – Reflection stage (second modernity) – we begin to view our society as a risk society; growing realization of the dangers; critical reflection » People must deal with constant insecurity and uncertainty » Conventional social order is breaking down » Conflict between lay people and experts » Risk becomes political

8 Risk Society Theory Individualization – breaking down of traditional norms and values; there are new personal risks (work and family) that raise awareness of global risks In the pre-modern world – ‘structuring institutions’ (e.g., gender, class) largely determined one’s fate at birth Structuring institutions have less of an impact on one’s ‘biography’ now People now must create their own destinies, but – Work – stable employment is not a given, people must make up their own opportunities, they have to be flexible and entrepreneurial – Relationships – people have greater freedom to pursue autonomy and self-improvement in relationships, which leads to greater conflict New risks from this: – Unemployment, underemployment, marriage instability, family breakdown, anxiety, insecurity – Life is less certain even though we control more The consequences: – With increased exposure to uncertainty in work and family, we become preoccupied with large scale risks to society as a whole (see a link to cognitive science?) – Risk consciousness can lead to the change that is needed » Ecological enlightenment » Cosmopolitanisation of political outlooks (we need global institutions and global solutions) » New forms of global civil society and polity Examples: Anti-globalization movements, International Criminal Court, United Nations

9 Interesting Themes from Chapter 4 Nature – ‘nature’ is an ambiguous term – In here – Out there – Deep ecology/fragility; robust and exploitability – The connection between culture and nature (also covered in the ‘risks as hybrids’ section) Complexity – Complex technical systems are ‘tightly coupled’ – Accidents are normal Vulnerability – Although new risks (e.g., radiation from a nuclear accident) are democratic (i.e., they are difficult to contain in space), people and societies have different resources to deal with risk


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