Q: In the risk society is ‘security’ ever possible?
Modernity or the Modern Age as it is commonly referred to, drastically changed the society we live in. The rapid advancements in physics, chemistry, mathematics and other sciences have enabled humans to reach peaks that were previously rendered unimaginable, or even impossible in the pre-modernity era. From inventions like television sets, microwaves, cars and personal computers (PCs) to walking on the Moon and breaking the speed of sound – all pay credit to the modern era. The age of modernity therefore represents a shift from feudalism towards industrialisation, secularization and ultimately, capitalism itself (Barker, 2005: 444). The immense effects that these advancements and inventions had on our society, lead to the break between modernity and any other previous historical periods. The term ‘modern’ itself, originates in Latin and translates to, “just now” (Oxford Dictionary, 2011: internet). The implicit argument therefore, is that within modernity people are mainly focused on the present and future – no longer on the past (Wood, 1997: 544-545). As it will be shown, the advancements brought by modernity have more recently backlashed with a multitude of negative effects. Issues such as, climate change, toxic hazards, CO2 emissions, and food additives represent only a few threats that our society and the larger world face today, “In the modernization process, more and more destructive forces are being unleashed, forces before which the human imagination stands in awe” (Beck, 1992: 20). This brings us to the sociological concept of ‘Risk Society’ developed by Ulrich Beck in 1986 in Germany (translated into English in 1992). Throughout this paper we will seek to discover if ‘security’ is ever possible in the risk society.
Within the risk society, absolute security, i.e. the absolute guarantee of protection of the individual against all hazards or risks created by modernity itself, is unachievable. However, as it will be shown in this essay, there are various measures that can be taken to achieve a higher degree of security. We will firstly begin by conceptualizing about the ‘risk society’ itself. Secondly, we will consider and define the term ‘security’, followed by some examples of the major threats that contribute to the risk society thesis and threaten our security. Lastly, we will end by exploring some movements and initiatives that can increase security.
In terms of defining ‘risk society’, sociologist Anthony Giddens believes that it is “a society increasingly preoccupied with the future (and also with safety), which generates the notion of risk” (1999: 3). Key to this definition is the term ‘risk’ and as a consequence we will briefly explore the implication of ‘risk’ in Beck’s ‘risk society’. Within our given context, ‘risk’ is defined as, “a systematic way of dealing with hazards and insecurities induced and introduced by modernisation itself” (Beck in Lupton, 1999: 65:66). Unlike older, pre-modernity risks such as famine, plagues and natural disasters, modern risks appeared as a direct consequence of modernity itself. Therefore, the pre-modern era was mainly characterized by uncertainties (society was unaware when an earthquake or plague would hit), while modernity, especially late modernity or postmodernity (whichever term one choses to use) is mainly characterized by battling constant risks caused by modernity itself. Only half a century ago, who would have thought that industrial factories, nuclear power plants and even cars could produce such damage to the environment? Even as little as two decades ago, how many people were aware that tobacco smoking could lead to lung cancer? Today’s society is constantly preoccupied with risk and managing or preventing risk to the highest degree possible. This leads to a phenomenon that Beck calls “reflexive modernisation”. Reflexive modernisation can be broadly interpreted as a form of re-awakening from the...
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