Risk Society

For most of human experience, the primary societal concern was over scarcity—having adequate food, shelter, and resources to survive. While these concerns still exist for many in the world, a new concern has arisen, that of safety. The rise of technology has created abundance, and thus eliminated the issue of hunger and resource scarcity for many, especially in the developed countries. However, at the same time, these technologies have created anxiety about potential harms. Issues such as radioactivity, genetic engineering, or environmental degradation create apprehension and insecurity in the population. Hence, alongside concern about scarcity, a new concern over risk has emerged. One way to characterize this shift has been to note the emergence of a new form of concern, in which the original concern over scarcity, emblematized by the phrase “I am hungry,” has been expanded and partially replaced by the concern “I am afraid.” This creates a society in which the politics of eliminating scarcity to provide equity and freedom from want is overlaid by a politics based on minimizing anxiety and eliminating risk by providing safety (Beck 1986 [1992], 49). This shift is characterized as the emergence of a “risk society.”

This essay may be found on page 175 of the printed volume.

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