Living in the Anthropocene: From Risk Society to Risk-Taking Society

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 09:30
Location: Hörsaal 50 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Jens ZINN, University of Melbourne, Australia
In 1986 Ulrich Beck published the “Risk Society” in Germany what should become one of the most influential sociological publications. He claims that we would no longer live in a society characterized by conflicts about the allocation of wealth but the allocation of risks. Western industrializing societies had experienced a fundamental shift from successfully managing modernization risks by science and insurance to increasingly dealing with unexpected side-effects of successful modernization which escape these modern technologies. While the theory originally focused on technological risks such as nuclear, chemical, and genetic risks, with adding terrorism and climate change the scope of the theory increased.

There is an observable transformation of the social environment as well. Pre-industrial societies were exposed to risks of nature such as natural catastrophes and infectious diseases. During modernization nature became increasingly exploited and mastered by science and technology. With ongoing modernization unexpected side-effects would come back on us in the form of new mega-risks such as climate change which cannot be managed by modern strategies. Instead new strategies such as precaution were required. The natural environment was considered as fundamentally endangered supporting a preventative perspective.

With the Anthropocene—this is the major hypothesis of the presentation—the natural environment is fundamentally shaped and transformed by humanity. Having been sensitized to unexpected side-effects of human activity during the risk society era we are now entering a risk-taking society era where nature is actively shaped and produced by decisions under uncertainty managing non-knowledge. Since the natural environment is no longer understood as a relative stable context but as to be actively shaped we can no longer deal with new technologies on the basis of precaution. Instead our natural environment is increasingly understood as requiring active engagement to secure human survival.