Skip to main content

The father of the “Risk Society”, German sociologist Ulrich Beck, died earlier this year

Written by Amelie Theussen, Ph.D. Candidate at Center for War Studies

Earlier this year, on New Year’s Day, the world famous sociologist Ulrich Beck died aged 70. Due to administrative circumstances Research Frontiers was unable to publish this sad news earlier, but since Beck’s work and thoughts remain highly influential and important for political science and war studies, we decided to honor him and draw attention to his work at this later point in time.

In his most famous work Risikogesellschaft, published in 1986, Beck argues that mankind’s technological advances and globalization create the new imperative of managing the risks inherent in these developments. The book was published in English under the title Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity in 1992, and was widely acknowledged in academia and wider society.

As Mads Sørensen from Aarhus University said, “Beck knew very well that we can’t avoid taking risks. That risk-taking is part of life. However, some of the ‘new risks’ that were the focus of his analysis — radioactivity is perhaps the best example — have the potential to destroy us.” Besides radioactivity, which in Beck’s view could be avoided all together by refraining from producing nuclear energy, Beck also wrote about the risks of climate change and terrorism. For both he saw a need to manage these risks, rather then avert them, as they cannot be prevented entirely. 

Beck put emphasis on the fact that these risks, emerging through technology and globalization, are transnational in nature. As a consequence, he saw no alternative to increased transnational and international cooperation in order to manage and minimize these risks.

Additionally, Beck wrote on other subjects, such as globalization, the EURO, German politics, and equality.  He worked as a professor of sociology at the German universities of Münster, Bamberg, and Munich, and taught as visiting professor in Cardiff and at the London School of Economics. His work on the risk society, and the need to manage risks inherent in technological advances and globalization, as well as their transnational impact, remains highly relevant today; also for war studies considering modern conflicts with their transnational dynamics, modern weapons, and terrorist groups.  

Find the Financial Times’ obituary of Ulrich Beckhere (subscription required, access possible via SDU’s library service). 

And if you are interested, pick up his book: 
- German: Beck, Ulrich. (1986).Risikogesellschaft: Auf dem Weg in eine andere Moderne. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag.
- English: Beck, Ulrich. (1992). Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity. London: Sage Publications.