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The Risk Society Revisited

Social Theory and Risk Governance

Eugene Rosa, Aaron McCright, Ortwin Renn

Publication Year: 2013

Risk is a part of life. How we handle uncertainty and deal with potential threats influence decision making throughout our lives. In The Risk Society Revisited, Eugene A. Rosa, Ortwin Renn, and Aaron M. McCright offer the first book to present an integrated theory of risk and governance.

The authors examine our sociological understanding of risk and how we reconcile modern human conditions with our handling of risk in our quest for improved quality of life. They build a new framework for understanding risk—one that provides an innovative connection between social theory and the governance of technological and environmental risks and the sociopolitical challenges they pose for a sustainable future.

Showing how our consciousness affects risk in the decisions we make—as individuals and as members of a democratic society—The Risk Society Revisited makes an important contribution to the literature of risk research.

Published by: Temple University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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In Memoriam

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pp. vii-x

Eugene A. Rosa, a pioneer in environmental sociology, died on February 21, 2013, at seventy-one. Gene was committed to linking the leading edge of the social sciences to the ecological and earth systems sciences, as well as to engineering. His work is truly interdisciplinary and is influential among scholars who span the social, ecological, and physical sciences. At the same time, his work...


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pp. xi-xii

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Foreword: Risk Society as Political Category

Ulrich Beck

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pp. xiii-xxiv

When finishing the manuscript for my initial book, Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity, in 1986, I could not have expected that more than twenty-five years later, in 2012, three international social scientists specialized in different fields of risk research and management would publish The Risk Society Revisited: Social Theory and Governance. This is, first...

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pp. xxv-xxviii

The twentieth century was largely shaped by successive waves of a technological torrent. Comprising a remarkable range of technological changes, the torrent could hardly have been anticipated by both those humans who came before and those actually living in this revolutionary century (Hughes 2004). Included among the many developments were motorized personal transport, air...

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pp. xxix-xxx

We began working on this project in 1997. It was initially pitched as an article-length manuscript explicating the theoretical contributions on societal risk of Ulrich Beck, Anthony Giddens, and Niklas Luhmann—bringing in the work of Jürgen Habermas at the end to provide insights on the democratization of risk management. Over time, we realized...

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Introduction: Sketching the Contemporary Era

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pp. 1-10

Countless thinkers, especially in philosophy and the humanities, throughout the ages have sought to capture and document the “human condition.” What does it mean to be human? Who are we in the context of personal, social, and historical circumstances? What are the material, cultural, and spiritual conditions that shape us? What resources and constraints confront...

Part I. Social Science Foundations of Risk

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1. Meta-Theoretical Foundations

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pp. 13-32

Since our goal is to provide a logically grounded basis for effective forms of risk governance, our first task is to identify and disambiguate key disagreements about the meaning of risk itself. Once that is done, the next task is to demarcate the logical status of risk itself from the status of our knowledge about risk; the two are not the same. Then, we need to establish certain...

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2. An Evolution of Risk: Why Social Science Is Needed to Understand Risk

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pp. 33-46

The year 2012 marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of three major technical disasters: the Chernobyl catastrophe, the Challenger accident, and the pollution of the Rhine River after a fire destroyed a chemical storage building in Basel, Switzerland. These three events had lasting repercussions on public opinion. Even before 1986, many surveys in the United States, Canada, and...

Part II. Risk and Social Theory

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3. Overarching Perspective: The Rational Action Framework

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pp. 49-68

Any theoretical examination of risk must begin with a core recognition of the logical structure underpinning the concept. The field of risk has been dominated by an overarching framework with both behavioral and normative dimensions. That framework is founded on the principal insight that humans are percipient organisms capable of assessing key features...

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4. Reflexive Modernization Theory and Risk: The Work of Ulrich Beck and Anthony Giddens

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pp. 69-101

Modernity is typically defined as the evolutionary outcome of a transition from traditional forms of social and political organization accompanying the industrialization and urbanization of societies. The sine qua non of modernization is a change in worldview at the most basic level of human thought. It begins with the rejection of life as a cyclical process. In its...

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5. Risk in Systems: The Work of Niklas Luhmann

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pp. 102-109

The German sociologist Niklas Luhmann, like Beck and Giddens, has devoted considerable time and effort to the study of risk. As we discussed in Chapter 2, Luhmann’s Ecological Communication was published in 1986, soon after the Chernobyl, Challenger, and Sandoz Laboratory accidents. In this treatise, written before the three accidents, Luhmann offered a theoretical...

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6. Jürgen Habermas and Risk: An Alternative to RAP?

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pp. 110-120

The German theorist Jürgen Habermas has been remarkably silent about risk. He does set the groundwork for recognition of this central topic in Legitimation Crisis (1973), with his anticipation of the problem of climate change (“the limit of the environment’s ability to absorb heat from energy consumption”) and his recognition that population and economic excess are the...

Part III. Risk Governance: Links between Theory and Strategy

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7. The Emergence of Systemic Risks

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pp. 123-129

As we pointed out in Chapter 2, contemporary risk governance is challenged with a new category of risks: systemic risks. The most obvious example of such risks was the world financial crisis of 2008, in which the entire global financial system nearly collapsed. It all began with a crisis in subprime mortgage deficiencies. Early warnings indicated that the market was...

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8. The Three Companions of Risk: Complexity, Uncertainty, and Ambiguity

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pp. 130-149

As pointed out in Chapter 7, three major characteristics—complexity, uncertainty, and ambiguity—are inherent in all decisions in which risks play a key role. The three challenges are particularly relevant for new threats, especially systemic risks (Klinke and Renn 2002, 2010; Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development 2003). These characteristics...

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9. Risk Governance: A Synthesis

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pp. 150-169

Risk governance, as we defined it in the Introduction, is a broad rubric referring to a complex of coordinating, steering, and regulatory processes conducted for collective decision making involving uncertainty. Risk sets this collection of processes in motion whenever the risk affects multiples of people, collectivities, or institutions. Governance comprises both the institutional...

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10. An Analytic-Deliberative Process: A Proposal for Better Risk Governance

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pp. 170-194

After reviewing the main sociological analyses of risk and extending our perspective to the whole governance process, many questions remain unanswered. How can one get priorities right in the politics of risk? Who should decide where limited money and resources should go? How can we establish a constructive discourse on risk management? How can modern...

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Conclusion: Risk Governance as a Catalyst for Social Theory and Praxis

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pp. 195-202

The reality that risk has always been and will continue forever to be a universal feature of the human condition is nearly unassailable. From threats by saber-toothed tigers to global warming, there is deep uncertainty about the things that humans value. The world of advanced modernity has elevated risk to a position at the core of that condition. The pace of risk creation...


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pp. 203-230


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pp. 231-233

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About the Authors

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p. 234-234

Eugene A. Rosa (1941–2013) was the Edward R. Meyer Distinguished Professor of Natural Resource and Environmental Policy, Professor of Sociology, Affiliated Professor of Fine Arts, and Faculty Associate in the Center for Environmental Research, Education, and Outreach at Washington State University.

Ortwin Renn is Professor and Chair of Environmental Sociology and...

E-ISBN-13: 9781439902608
E-ISBN-10: 1439902607
Print-ISBN-13: 9781439902592
Print-ISBN-10: 1439902593

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2013