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ULRICH BECK

The Second Sex. 1949. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972. Some extracts can be found in Margaret Simons edited collection Simone de Beauvoir: Philosophical Writings. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2004.

Further reading
Mary Evans. 1985. Simone De Beauvoir: A Feminist Mandarin. London: Tavistock. Deidre Bair. 1990. Simone de Beauvoir: A Biography. New York: Summit Books. Toril Moi. 1993. Simone de Beauvoir: The Making of an Intellectual Woman. Oxford: Blackwell.
MARY EVANS

ULRICH BECK
Ulrich Beck, born in 1944, is primarily known for his groundbreaking thesis on risk society. He argues that a fundamental break is taking place within the social history of modernity; a break marked by the dissolution of older forms of industrial society and the rise of a new risk society. Beck claims that earlier generations of industrial societies were blind to the ecological hazards of modernization and that a social consciousness of large-scale industrial hazards is beginning to exert a heavy inuence upon peoples cultural attitudes and social behaviours in the emergent risk society. This is particularly apparent in relation to chemical pollutants, nuclear technologies and genetic engineering. The new risk consciousness results from a perception, encouraged by the mass media, that we are living through a time where the environmental costs of industrialization are beginning to outweigh the social benets. The frames of reference that shape Becks approach to social theory, as well as his terms of political analysis, are rooted in the belief that, where the denizens of industrial society are blind to the uninsurable risks of modernization, those of the risk society must come to terms with possible futures in which the threat of self-annihilation looms large upon the cultural horizon. Beck holds that the novelty of the situation demands a revision of the language of social science so as to create concepts that are more suited to grasp the reality of the world in which we now nd ourselves. He maintains that many longstanding sociological concepts,
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ULRICH BECK

such as social class, the family household, gender roles and the nation-state are now outdated and exist only as zombie categories. Indeed, he holds strongly to the view that we have arrived at a point in our social development where the so-called classical frameworks of sociological analysis developed by writers such as Max Weber and Emile Durkheim no longer provide us with any signicant insights into the major transformations that are shaping the overall structure and quality of life in contemporary societies. Accordingly, his writings may be seen as a forthright attempt to furnish sociology with theories of society that are more in tune with contemporary cultural sensibilities. Becks publications have done a great deal to establish the idea of risk as a core concept in sociological analysis. He has used this concept as a means to initiate a variety of critical debates on the essential character of contemporary society, culture and politics. Becks focus on risk is used not only to bring sociological attention to bear upon myriad problems relating to ecological hazards, but also to present a broad vision of social life where individuals increasingly experience a pronounced sense of insecurity with regard to everyday matters of love and work. While he argues that peoples awareness of risks is intimately related to their knowledge about threats to the environment, he also acknowledges the extent to which risk consciousness results from experiences of exible forms of employment and shifting patterns of family life. Accordingly, along with writers such as Anthony Giddens and Zygmunt Bauman, he presents the risk society as a runaway world of rapid social change: a world where individuals are continually forced to negotiate their basic terms of self-identity, cultural meaning and social belonging. He argues that, more than ever before, people are inclined to think about and approach every aspect of their lives through a calculation of risk. Risk consciousness comprises a cultural sensibility rooted in processes of individualization and reexive modernization. The majority of people now nd that contemporary social and economic arrangements afford no time or space for traditional patterns of work and family life. As a result, individuals are increasingly forced to make anxious choices about how to live their lives. It is claimed that such an intensifying process of individualization is at once a source of and a response to a further process of reexive modernization. Beck maintains that individuals are not only increasingly inclined to reect critically upon the value and purpose of their lives, but also more likely to be primed to engage in wider critical debates over political organization and established ideals of social progress. Accordingly,
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while critical thinking may well result from a growing knowledge about the threat of ecological catastrophe, the culture for such thinking is at the same time nurtured by everyday social circumstances of pronounced insecurity. In the nal analysis, a great deal of Becks sociological commentary is designed to provoke further debate over the possibilities that exist within a risk society for radical social change. There is a strong polemical orientation to his work. He makes explicit his concern for the development of a new radicalized modernity guided by the ideals of ecological enlightenment. Following on from his conviction that western industrialization has brought us to the brink of global environmental catastrophe, a great sense of urgency characterizes his search for any erstwhile developments that indicate a propensity for society to reform itself (particularly in its use of technology and science) so as to secure our planetary survival. While it is possible to recognize a utopian element within his social theory, this is far removed from the Marxist ideals that inspired earlier generations of critical theorists. Whilst seeking to promote a new cosmopolitan perspective on international politics and law, he argues that our best hopes for the future rest on the possibility of involving an increasingly powerful transnational community of non-governmental organizations within the key political decisions confronting global society. On this account, the seeds for radical social change are already being sown by organizations such as Greenpeace, Genewatch, Oxfam and Amnesty International. It is according to the intensity of our shared fears for the future that opportunities may increase for these seeds to germinate and ourish. Considerable controversy surrounds Becks work. First, some object to the strong realism that characterizes his depiction of environmental hazards and, in particular, his failure to engage with the analytical complexity of existing sociological debates concerning the social construction of our cultural understandings of risk. Second, empirical studies of risk perception have found little evidence to support Becks favoured representation of the ways in which individuals are liable to experience and make sense of potential risks to themselves and others. Finally, some are inclined to take issue with the historical narrative which frames his account of the novelty of a risk society; and all the more so where this leads him to argue that classical sociological theory holds no value for understanding contemporary social developments. Nevertheless, there is no doubting the fact that his works are now widely recognized as indispensable for engaging with the task of theorizing todays world. Ulrich Beck is a
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HOWARD S. BECKER

prime example of a Zeitgeist sociologist. Whilst the majority of commentators may adopt a largely critical stance towards the central claims of his thesis, it is all too clear, nevertheless, that he is widely regarded as having signicantly advanced the capacity for sociological theorists to engage with the task of thinking society anew.
See also: Zygmunt Bauman, Anthony Giddens. See also in Fifty Key Sociologists: The Formative Theorists: Karl Marx.

Major works
Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity. 1986. London: Sage, 1992. Ecological Politics in an Age of Risk. 1988. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1995. The Normal Chaos of Love. 1990. With Elizabeth Beck-Gernsheim. London: Polity Press, 1995. Ecological Enlightenment: Essays on the Politics of the Risk Society. 1991. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1995. The Reinvention of Politics: Rethinking Modernity in the Global Social Order. 1996. Cambridge: Polity Press. Democracy Without Enemies. 1997. Cambridge: Polity Press. World Risk Society. 1997. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1999. Power in the Global Age. 2005. Cambridge: Polity Press. Cosmopolitan Vision. 2006. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Further reading
Barbara Adam, Ulrich Beck and J. van Loon, eds. 2000. The Risk Society and Beyond: Critical Issues for Social Theory. London: Sage. Ulrich Beck and Johannes Willms. 2004. Conversations with Ulrich Beck. Cambridge: Polity Press. Gabe Mythen. 2004. Ulrich Beck: A Critical Introduction to the Risk Society. London: Pluto Press. Iain Wilkinson. 2001. Anxiety in a Risk Society. London: Routledge.
IAIN WILKINSON

HOWARD S. BECKER
Howard Saul Becker is one of the most inuential gures in the symbolic interactionist tradition. Born in 1928 and raised in Chicago, he studied there for all three of his degrees and spent most of his
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