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by ?using ?the ?concepts? and ?arguments ?to ?analyse?news casts? or ?journalistic ?works ?that
?related? to? the?theme.?How? would ?you? apply? the? concepts ?to ?what ?is?presented?in? the
?news? ?Do ?the ?concepts ?complement?or ?contradict ?what? news casters? or? reporters ?have
?to?say?? Can ?you ?justify ?an ?author�s? argument ?through?practical ?examples??
This paper explores the concept of risk society and abuses of science and technology in the
twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The arguments posed in this paper are considerably
informed by the works of theorists Ulrich Beck and Anthony Giddens. The paper argues that the
reflexive modernization has resulted into technological risks being much more than natural risks,
and these technological risks, with their global nature, do cause harm to everyone including those
who create them. The paper further analyzes the role of the mass media in this risk society.
Giddens (1998), a British sociologist defines a risk society as one with an increasing
preoccupation with the future, generating the aspect of risk. According to Beck (1992), a German
sociologist, a risk society refers to a systematic manner in which modernization induces and
introduces hazards and insecurities. Both sociologists define risk society in line with the aspect
of modernity. Modernity is considered as a culture which focuses on the future instead of the
past. Accordingly, through self-examination, a society transforms itself in the process. Beck
(2006) further observes that the contemporary society is a risk society due to the fact that it is
overwhelmingly occupied with debates, prevention and management of risks that it has produced
According to Giddens and Beck, despite the fact that humans have always been exposed to
natural disasters, modern societies have resulted into such risks as crime, new illnesses, and
pollution. Giddens refers to the risks induced and introduced by modernization as manufactured
risks and external risks. They are manufactured risks in the sense that their production and
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mitigation are dependent on human agency, unlike recurring natural risks such as earthquakes,
cyclones, floods, and epidemics which have been threatening the survival of all societies even
before the advent of modernity (Ekberg, 2007). Manufactured risks are created in biomedical,
chemical, and nuclear laboratories of the modern scientific societies. Thus, they are special to
this scientific era. This implies that manufactured risks are capable of being assessed in terms of
the magnitude or likelihood of their production. According to Giddens (1998), modernity has
shifted emphasis from natural risks to technological risks. Giddens further points out that nature
came to an end at the point when human beings stopped to worry about what nature could do to
them and began worrying more about what they have done to nature. Thus, it is not surprising
that risks today emanate more from human activity than from nature, as it was the case in the
Today, there is immense circulation of knowledge between the government, scientific
communities, professional bodies, and the public. Furthermore, the spread of knowledge is
happening on a global scale. It is possible for anyone to access information concerning health,
medicine and well-being, as well as epidemics, both real and potential. Most importantly, the
concept of risk society is closely related to threats posed by human agency. As a result of social
concerns, the nuclear power is increasingly being regulated, with some expansion plans being
abandoned, thus causing the alteration of modernity itself. In this regard, a state of reflexive
modernization has come into existence due to the increasing critique of modern industrial
practices. Reflexive modernization is reflected through concepts such as the precautionary
principle and sustainability, focusing on measures that can help in decreasing levels of risk
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Society risk theorists have differing perspectives on how the concept of a risk society tends to
interact with class distinctions and social hierarchies. Most theorists are of the view that social
interactions have led to the alteration of the introduction of reflexive modernization and
manufactured risks. Similar to wealth, the distribution of risks occurs unevenly within a
population and this considerably influences the quality of life.
Beck and colleagues (2000) point out that modern ‘risks’ are unprecedented from a historical
perspective in line with their invisibility, catastrophic impacts, and spatial, temporal reach. The
visibility of these risks can be achieved only if socially defined in line with knowledge or
knowledge processing fora such as the mass media, the legal system, and science. Contemporary
risks are highly dependent on this constructionist social formulation. In addition, everybody is
under the threat of risks produced by technologically advanced capitalism. Nevertheless, the
irony presented with these risks is that new social conflicts and antagonisms emerge as a result of
the contrast between the so-called inegaliatarian ‘goods’ and democratic ‘bads’. Within the core
of these conflicts is where the public are surrounded and informed about these risks and their
effects. Furthermore, the media are regarded as the main arena through which such social
conflicts over knowledge, definitions, and effects of risks are displayed.
Beck argues that pre-modern class structures which were basically based on wealth accumulation
have weakened in the modern risk society, in which a social risk status is achieved in terms of
the extent of risk aversion. However, Giddens is of the view that pre-modern class structures still
play a significant role in the risk society, in which they are now partly defined according to the
different opportunities presented for self-actualization and empowerment. Giddens also takes a
rather positive approach towards the concept of a risk society than Beck. All in all, the risk
society presents struggles by the rich to distribute risks to the poor, and this has been a chief
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source of conflict. For instance, in the recent hurricane Katrina in Atlanta, the poorest and least
powerful groups of the society bore the social and environmental risks resulting from the
catastrophe (Kennedy & Kennedy, 2010).
According to the theory of world risk society, modern societies are considerably influenced by
new forms of risks, to the extent that their bases are upset by the society’s anticipation of global
catastrophes. These perceptions of global risk are characterized through: de-localization,
incalculableness, and non-compensability (Beck, 1992). With regards to de-localization, the
causes and effects of global risk are omnipresent in the sense that it cannot be restricted to a
specific geographical space or location. Secondly, a global risk is incalculable in respect of its
hypothetical consequences. Thirdly, a global risk is not compensable since the aspect of
compensation has been replaced by the doctrine of precaution through prevention. In addition to
the aspect of prevention taking precedence over compensation, the modern society is also aiming
at anticipating and preventing risks whose existence has not yet been established.
Thus, today’s global society presents a wide range of challenges in the sense that risks are now
not capable of being calculated, controlled and measured, and they are beyond the prospects of
compensation and socialization. The security pact of industrial society is being broken down by
the numerous forms of chemical and bio-technological production, nuclear power and the
continuing ecological destructions. Thus, this has led to the subversion or suspension of the
foundations of the established risk logic.
The growing complexities in the global risk society have made it difficult for anyone to gauge
with certainty the extent of risks presented today through the collective innovations and
technologies (Beck, 1995). Science is now failing us through the contradictory assessments,
conflicting reports and varying risk calculations. Accordingly, the evaporating faith in risk
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technocrats and the dissolving of hegemony experts leaves the issue of risk assessments to
political games that are played in pursuit of sectional interests. For instance, consumers in
Western Europe have rejected the introduction of genetically modified products not as a result of
adverse results by scientists as to the potential risks to human consumption, but as a result of the
sanctity given by risk experts who have been considered as manipulated by big agro-business. In
the contemporary society, consumers do not have faith in the restrained horizon of understanding
that experts cannot gauge the unintended impacts of complex technologies and their external
risks. Thus, reflexive modernization results into the breaking down of the social compact of risk
society (Jarvis, 2007).
In line with Beck’s argument, it is evident that the growing influence of science and technology
consequently increases the difficulty and impossibility of managing all-embracing risks resulting
from new innovations or discoveries aimed at advancing our mastery over nature or improving
the quality of life (Kennedy & Kennedy, 2010).
Beck (1992) posits that the minimization of hazards is only possible through technological
means. Accordingly, the risk society has emerged as a result of the increased ability of people to
communicate with each other because of the development of information technology. In an era
where technological systems are growing on a world-wide large scale, it is evident that, in the
long-run, the least likely event will take place. Thus, media, despite the commercial pursuit of
revenue, readers, and ratings, as well as eventual parading of entertainment, drama, and
spectacle, can play an important role of illuminating on the latest disasters and catastrophes in
the society that have been induced by technology. In the contemporary risk society, risks are
avoided and compensated in line with earlier industrial risks that have a higher potential of being
known, calculated, controlled, and predicted. This implies that the institutional reactions to
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‘social explosiveness of hazard’ are characterized with inadequacy. Ultimately, the media will be
attracted to each disaster’s ‘organized irresponsibility’ (Kennedy & Kennedy, 2010).
The mass media has instigated and aggravated politics of fear and hysteria (Beck, 2006). Despite
the importance attached to the media in the growing theory of risk society, research indicates that
there is inadequate detailed analysis concerning their role. Theories focusing on fragmentation of
power, cultural consciousness, and spiraling of real risks have failed to inquire into the factors
raising conflicts between definition and validity. Research indicates that the media is not
properly equipped to give detailed attention to any form of threat, whether potential or real.
Despite the interest or concerns of particular journalists, news structures have failed to ensure
that sustainable risk coverage is encouraged. Individual stories tend to attract attention only in
situations where there are major disasters, decisive scientific statements, official responses,
and/or when governments, bureaucracies, and organizations dispute over the extent of the
hazard. Nevertheless, most debates over risks rarely fall within these classifications.
In line with Beck’s theory of risk society, research also indicates that risk is characterized by
uncertainty (Kitzinger & Reilly, 1997). Accordingly, the lack of conclusive scientific evidence
always results into the “we need more research” approach, which tends to frustrate journalists.
Journalists abhor scientific uncertainty because their attention is basically drawn to controversy.
In addition, unless the government or other relevant authorities pursue the precautionary
principle, risks tend to be ignored or seem to have been officially solved, which ultimately
weakens the news value of the story. Ironically, the failure to pursue precautionary measures
usually increases risk.
By its definition, risk relates to projected assessments. It is a concept focusing on prediction of
the future. This conflicts with the key news principle which puts emphasis on present events.
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Television and press news, way from putting focus on risk, has the tendency of ignoring
hypothetical and distant threats. In most cases, unless the risks are realized in some way,
hypothetical risks are not reported as ‘risk stories.’ For instance, a journalist’s comments
concerning potential risks arising from human genetic research will be considered as mere
speculation and not news (Kitzinger & Reilly, 1997).
Even in cases where the media reports risks in the risk society, they have high chances of
misrepresenting risk statistics and distorting the ‘facts’. Journalists tend to be ‘risk junkies’ in the
sense that they exaggerate risk scenarios in order to attract attention from the public. As they say,
‘good news is no news.’ Thus, the media has been accused of playing down instead of playing up
the potential dangers of respective disasters. Reporting of an event is usually shaped by the
mental maps drawn by the journalist, and the manner in which he/she frames the story. The
actions of a journalist are also considerably influenced and limited by the organizations in which
they work. Consequently, the statistics presented in a news cast may fail to reflect the reality on
the ground (Cottle, 1998).
In conclusion, it is evident that the scientific and technological innovations in the modern society
have resulted into more manufactured risks than natural risks. These risks are complex in the
sense that they are global, incalculable, and not compensable. These risks tend to be distributed
by the rich to the poor people in the society, in scenarios where the concept of precautionary
principle is not adopted. Accordingly, the media also plays an important role in the risk society
by reporting the magnitude of risks taking place. However, the media tends to exaggerate risks
and operate on speculation, thus misleading the people.
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Beck, U. (2006). Living in the world risk society. Economy and Society, 35(3): 329-345.
Beck, U. (1995). Ecological Politics in the Age of Risk. Polity Press.
Beck, U., Adam, B., & Van Loon, J. (2000). The Risk Society and Beyond: Critical Issues for
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Cottle, S. (1998). Ulrich Beck, ‘Risk Society’ and the Media: A Catastrophic View? European
Journal of Communication, 13(1): 5-32.
Ekberg, M. (2007). The Parameters of the Risk Society: A Review and Exploration. Current
Sociology, 55: 343.
Giddens, A. (1998). The Third Way: The Renewal of Social Democracy. Polity.
Jarvis, D. S. (2007). Risk, Globalisation and the State: A Critical Appraisal of Ulrich Beck and
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Kennedy, P. & Kennedy C. (2010). Using Theory to Explore Health, Medicine and Society.