The parameters of the risk society: a review and exploration

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This article offers a review and exploration of the parameters of the risk society. The primary focus is on the theoretical works of German sociologist Ulrich Beck and British sociologist Anthony Giddens, and in particular, their claim that we are living in a second, reflexive age of modernity, or risk society, characterized by an omnipresence of low probability—high consequence technological risks. The article concludes that the theorists of the risk society succeed in their goal of raising important questions for reflection and for future research. The risk society thesis succeeds in describing the emergence of a risk ethos, the development of a collective risk identity and the formation of communities united by an increasing vulnerability to risk. It draws attention to how the essentialist nature of risk has been transformed and how the origins and impact of risk have been reassessed. The theory points to a reconfiguration in the way risk is identified, evaluated, communicated and governed. The risk society expands the traditional concept of risk understood as the sum of the probability of an adverse event and the magnitude of the consequences, to include the subjective perception of risk, the inter-subjective communication of risk and the social experience of living in a risk environment. Finally, the theorists of the risk society succeed in iterating that it is not just health and the environment that are at risk, but in addition, the fundamental sociopolitical values of liberty, equality, justice, rights and democracy are now at risk.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCurrent Sociology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2007


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