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Intercultural Dynamics - [03/08/2007]

The political and social construction of risk, according to Ulrich Beck

Ulrich Beck, professor of sociology at Ludwig-MaximilianUniversity in Munich and visiting professor at the London School of Economics, explained his views on the political and social construction of risk in a lecture organised by the Intercultural Dynamics Programme of the CIDOB Foundation in the Caixa Catalunya Auditorium in the Pedrera building in Barcelona.

Considered one of the most prestigious contemporary sociologists in the world, Ulrich Beck offered an analysis for understanding the world risk society in which we live. He is the author of the following works, among others: The Cosmopolitan Vision; Individualization (with E. Beck-Gernsheim); The Normal Chaos of Love (with E. Beck-Gernsheim); Democracy Without Enemies; Risk Society; and What is Globalization?

Beck described the world risk society as “a systemic solution for managing the risks and insecurities introduced by modernisation, which has altered the dynamics of social organisation during the process”. According to this sociologist, “risk represents the anticipation of catastrophe, a perception that often ignores the very preconditions that generate it”. Within this framework, the German professor considers that sociology should study these perceptions if they do not become concrete in a risk projected onto reality.

In the context of modern societies, Beck believes it necessary “to debate, prevent and learn to satisfactorily manage risk, with the aim of facing up to the induced political hysteria and a perception of fear, often spread through common practices used by the mass media.”

“Dramatising and institutionalising risks encourages their sociabilization. They make them more palpable in the symbolic facet of reality,” according to the German sociologist. In addition, anticipation of disasters is a form of social action that does not only have negative effects, but also positive ones, such as in “the struggles on a global scale generated by the discourse on climate change”, Beck added.

After briefly introducing the dynamics of the irony of risk (the aversion of a danger that can not be verified), Beck underscored three characteristics of world risk: geographic delocalisation, the hypothetical nature of its magnitude and the lack of compensatoriness.

The professor from Ludwig-MaximilianUniversity in Munich centres hope in the citizenry for a future change in some institutions which, for now, are suffering from a certain degree of distrust. Beck also underscores the importance of “cosmopolitanization and of new alliances as a response to society’s current challenge, a way of facing up to these responsibilities, both from civil society and from the institutions”.

This event is part of the lecture series, Sociocultural Challenges of the 21st Century, organised by the Intercultural Dynamics Programme of the CIDOB Foundation in collaboration with the Caixa Catalunya Foundation.

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