Tricky Business: Challenging Risk Theory and its Vision of a Better Global Future

  • François Debrix
Part of the International Political Economy Series book series (IPES)


Over the past ten years, risk theory has been one of the most fashionable theoretical models used to analyse the crises of late-modern society. Introduced by German sociologist Ulrich Beck in the early 1990s,1 and later revisited by Anglo-Saxon constructionist and critical social theorists including Anthony Giddens, Scott Lash and Zygmunt Bauman,2 risk theory has been deployed as a response to many destabilizing trends and fear-inducing phenomena of the 1990s. With the emergence of environmental disasters in the former Communist bloc countries, sweeping political changes in all of Europe, bloody ethnic rivalries from the Balkans to Africa, and growing social inequalities pretty much everywhere, risk theory has risen to academic prominence with its claims to be able to offer theoretical and practical guidelines that will help people to make sense of the inconsistencies of a globalized society (or what Beck often simply calls ‘risk society’). While intimately associated with the problems of the Western world and the collapse of many of the West’s political values (the state, sovereignty, democracy, welfare), risk society affects the entire world because the West has assiduously sought to ‘globalize’ its values and its political system for the past two centuries.


Global Risk Risk Theory Risk Society Global Polity Western European Population 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    U. Beck, Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity (London: Sage, 1992).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    A. Giddens, ‘Living in a Post-Traditional Society’, in U. Beck, A. Giddens and S. Lash, Reflexive Modernization: Politics, Tradition and Aesthetics in the Modern Social Order (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1994), pp. 56–109;Google Scholar
  3. S. Lash, ‘Risk Culture’, in B. Adam, U. Beck and J. Van Loon (eds), The Risk Society and Beyond: Critical Issues for Social Theory (London: Sage, 2000), pp. 47–62;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Z. Bauman, In Search of Public Space (Cambridge: Polity, 1999).Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    U. Beck, World Risk Society (Cambridge: Polity, 1999), pp. 1–18.Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    U. Engel and H. Strasser, ‘Global Risks and Social Inequality: Critical Remarks on the Risk-Society Hypothesis’, Canadian Journal of Sociology, 23 (1998), 91–103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 6.
    J. Baudrillard, In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities (New York: Semiotext(e), 1983)Google Scholar
  8. J.-F. Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1984).Google Scholar
  9. 8.
    A. Giddens, The Consequences of Modernity (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1990), p. 10.Google Scholar
  10. 9.
    F. Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York: Perennial Press, 1993).Google Scholar
  11. 10.
    A. Elliott, ‘Beck’s Sociology of Risk: A Critical Assessment’, Sociology, 36 (2002), 297.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 16.
    D. Lupton, Risk (New York: Routledge, 1999), pp. 63–5.Google Scholar
  13. 22.
    U. Beck, What Is Globalization? (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2000), p. 15; my emphasis.Google Scholar
  14. 27.
    U. Beck, ‘Rooted Cosmopolitanism: Emerging from a Rivalry of Distinctions’, in U. Beck, N. Sznaider and R. Winter (eds), Global America? The Cultural Consequences of Globalization (Liverpool: University of Liverpool Press, 2003), pp. 16–17.Google Scholar
  15. 42.
    M. Douglas, Purity and Danger (New York: Routledge, 2002)Google Scholar
  16. M. Douglas and A. Wildaysky, Risk and Culture: An Essay on the Selection of Technological and Environmental Dangers (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1982).Google Scholar
  17. 45.
    A. Appadurai, Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1998).Google Scholar
  18. 49.
    N. Inayatullah and D. Blaney, International Relations and the Problem of Difference (New York: Routledge, 2003).Google Scholar
  19. 56.
    See in particular A. Giddens, The Constitution of Society: Outline of the Theory of Structuration (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1984).Google Scholar
  20. 58.
    F. Debrix, ‘Don’t Have a Cow Man! Food Contamination, Popular Paranoia, and the Aesthetics of Madness’, mimeo, paper presented at the ‘Security Bytes’ Colloquium, Lancaster University, Lancaster, United Kingdom,+ 18 July 2004.Google Scholar
  21. 62.
    M. Foucault, The Archeology of Knowledge (New York: Pantheon, 1972).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© François Debrix 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • François Debrix

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations