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The invasion of tomorrow: A theoretical study of the development of the risk concept
Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Sociology.
2011 (English)Independent thesis Basic level (degree of Bachelor), 10 credits / 15 HE creditsStudent thesis
Abstract [en]

The use of the term risk has increased during the latest decades, not least in the medias, and so has the interest for risk as a topic of research. It seems as if the nature and social perception of risk has gone through important changes during the last centuries. The purpose of this study has been to investigate how and why the risk concept has changed over time. Starting from the influential writings of Ulrich Beck and Anthony Giddens, the ambition has been make a clear and critical survey of the subject. To Beck and Giddens risk is a modern concept. While in traditional societies threats were experienced as uncontrollable divine strokes of fate, as dangers, in modernity many threats begin to be conceived as controllable, as risks. This is a development closely linked to the expansion of insurance systems (i.e. the welfare-state), which through predictions based on probability calculations and the promise of retrospective monetary compensation for damage make the future seem controllable. During this first stage of risk the "perfect control society" seems attainable. But as rational knowledge continues to expand and humans intrude further into their environment, we realize that many risks believed to originate in nature or in circumstances fixed by tradition are the result of human decisions. Moreover, the inherently changeable character of (expert) knowledge is revealed. In a world where individuals are forced to take responsibility for their decisions, risk moves into their everyday lives. The social origin and sometimes catastrophic potential and indefinable character of these so called "manufactured risks", and an experienced increased openness and complexity of the world, create problems for the individual as well as for the insurance system. In this so called "risk society", our sense of control staggers. Beck's and Giddens' accounts of this development are very similar. Yet Beck is somewhat more pessimistic about our present state of control. This is also a main criticism towards his risk society thesis. Moreover, Beck's lack of consistency and clarity and his alleged over-generalizing and insufficient empirical backing are discussed. Further research of a more empirical kind is suggested in order to test the merits of Beck's and Giddens' theories.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Keyword [en]
risk, danger, uncertainty, tradition, nature, science, insurance
National Category
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-58531OAI: diva2:420668
Social and Behavioural Science, Law
Available from: 2012-01-30 Created: 2011-06-03 Last updated: 2012-01-30Bibliographically approved

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