Risk Mary Douglas talk about risk society and


Risk society in its simplest terms
can be the idea that we live in a society full of potential harm and how we
react and respond to this makes us a risk society. For example, we could be
working to reduce the risk or on the other hand not be bothered about it. Key
sociologists such as Ulrich Beck and Mary Douglas talk about risk society and
the potential harm in their work which I will be looking at their ideas,
positive and negative effects of living in a risk society.

 David Denney (David Denney; 2008) outlines
that risk can be ‘presented as both a positive and negative concept. For example,
he explains how risk is negative due to its connotations with potential harm
and a hazard to an individual. However, he also mentions that although risk is
mainly seen as negative and ‘most people appear to experience risk in negative
terms’ (David Denney; 2008,10) This is because there can be many risks to
anything and everything. For example, when starting a business there’s a risk
it could be a failure or when something is an environmental risk then it can
potentially harm the environment.  It can
also be seen as a positive concept. This is due to the development of things
such as ‘global capitalist development’ and a ‘dynamic positive force for good’
(David Denney; 2008,11) which suggests that potential risk can be used to
motivate people onto creating things. Therefore, from certain situations we can
see that risk can be seen as a positive thing as it can cause the production of
something. Therefore, what David suggest that to live in a risk society, we are
living in both a positive and negative thing when it comes to the types of

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Ulrich Beck suggests that ‘in
contemporary culture, risk has become something of an omnipresent issue’ (Ulrich Beck;2004,1) He suggests that risk has become
a wide range of features such as health, parenting, crime and employment where
there are different types of risk associated with each area.  The idea of this suggests that we live in a
risk society due to there being a lot of different places which evolve our
everyday lives such as employment in which we experience different levels of
risk. He also expands on the idea that in a risk society we are constantly
questioning what is risk and different people such as, ‘politicians, scientific
experts, media professionals and the general public.’ (Ulrich Beck;2004, 2) Furthermore
it can be considered that different sociologists would interpret what it means
by a risk society differently due to different jobs and positions in society.
What we mean by a risk society is an area in which there is growing concern and
research into. Beck suggests that ‘the intensification of interest in risk
amongst the media, politicians and the public has been mirrored by growing
fascination with the subject within academia.’ (Ulrich Beck;2004, 4) All these
people who specialise in different areas research into what is risk and what
makes a risk society. There is also a link between technology and risk as the
more further developments in technology is leading to a further risk in
society. The development of technology is using up a lot of natural resource
which could be putting a further risk in society.

Mary Douglas is another sociologist
who explored risk and culture. She explores how some risks are known and
unknown to people and the extent to how big the certain risk is. Living in a
risk society means that there are certain problems when trying to characterise
risk for example, there is disagreements of how much risk there is in society,
then ‘people worry about different risks such as war or employment’ (Mary
Douglas;1983, page 1) and lastly, the solutions to the risks usually fail due
to lack of knowledge. Living in a risk society means that there are problems
such as these which are associated with how people perceive what risk is worth
taking action or what risks they worry over or not. She also explains how we
could not possibly calculate the level of harm that risk could be potentially
have. This is due to the fact that we don’t have the full knowledge over the
topic of risks and there would be disagreements in society over different people
in different professions and their thoughts. Her book explores the cultural
aspect of risk in which different cultures may have more risks than others and
it changes over time depending on the social situation and what people are
aware of. (Mary Douglas;1983)

Living in a risk society does seem
reasonable when many of us are aware of some of the risks around us whether
that is small or big however Joost Van Loon suggests that ‘the idea we live in
a risk society may seem absurd’ (Joost Van Loon;2003,2 ) He suggest that it may
seem unreasonable because we are living in the modern era in which it seems
safer than the previous eras of war and risks higher due to environmental
damage such as the Chernobyl disaster. Therefore, in today’s society it could
be seen as less of a risk compared to previous years due to the more advanced
and control we have over making sure risk is minimised.  An example which Joost suggests is that
although we cannot control the environments natural risks such as earthquakes
or volcanoes we have become better at recognising these risks and acting
against it such as emergency evacuation. He discusses how there is a
relationship between technology, risk and culture. He argues that we have to
look at whether public culture in society allows us to ‘contain the risks
endangered by technological culture’ (Joost Van Loon;
2003,5). So, by living in a risk society we need to be able to as a culture
be wary of the risks that are there due to the increase development of the
technological culture. This makes it quite hard due to the fact that there are
different risks in society which and ‘growing complexity’. (Joost Van Loon;

We could argue against some
sociologists who say that we live in a risk society and what they mean by it as
Fabrizio Cantelli, Naonori Kodate, Kristian Krieger in an article suggest that
as we are now more and individualised culture we can see that more and more
people are aware of the risks of their health and technology and do use their
voices to do something about this such as through new social movements. They
criticise Beck’s work on risk society for being outdated as it has been
released a while ago therefore is it really relevant to today’s society where
there’s a bigger change to what it was like in his era? (Fabrizio Cantelli,
Naonori Kodate, Kristian Krieger; 2010)

Ulrich Beck and Boris Holzer (2007)
discuss the topic of modern society being a risk society and its reason being
that it has become so revolved around managing and trying to control the risks
in the world that ‘itself produced the risks of risk society’ such as the
technological risks. Therefore, suggesting that what we mean by living n a risk
society is that our actions and behaviour have contributed to the risks we have
in society therefore we should be held responsible for any potential harm that
is resulted due to these risks. ‘Risk refers not to objective probabilities but
to the subjective expectation of possible damage related to one’s decision’.
(Ulrich Beck and Boris Holzer; 2007, 9) The riskier decisions we make to do
with anything such as technology, the more our decisions can cause potential

So, what does it mean when
sociologists say we live in a risk society? We have explored in this essay what
different sociologists mean by what is a risk society and their views and
interpretations. Technology and culture can be seen to contribute to risk due
to the different aspects of our transforming society and decision making is
important key into what makes something a risk or not. We are able to explore
how society is changing, evolving and adopting however there will always be a
risk in society whether that is big or small, to do with technology or
employment. The risks in society change over time as in the previous era’s the
risk was war and now its more to do with technology and bigger businesses. By
living in a risk society, we should be aware of our impact and our decisions
and what it has on the environment. Some may argue that bigger businesses cause
the risks due to the bigger impact they have on society.