‘Outsiders Just Don’t Understand’: Personalization of Risk and the Boundary Between Modernity and Postmodernity

  • Michael R. Edelstein


Contamination became a widely recognized facet of modern reality in the 1970s after such events as the discovery of buried hazardous wastes at Love Canal in Niagara Falls, New York and the spread of dioxin following an explosion at a pharmaceutical plant in Seveso, Italy. In these instances, reflecting chronic and acute cases of contamination, residents were relocated and permanent ‘dead zones’ were created on the landscape. Based upon such events, contamination emerged as the prototypical ‘new species of trouble,’ challenging modernity and forcing the transition toward a new postmodern society.1 Here it is argued that an understanding of this transition can be drawn from the experience of pollution’s victims. Using observations derived from empirical studies of the contamination experience, it is possible to confirm the largely European sociological representation of postmodernity, as depicted by Ulrich Beck’s theory of the ‘risk society.’2 At the same time, limits to the risk-society formulation also become apparent.


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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2000

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  • Michael R. Edelstein

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