Role of Risk in Contemporary Society

By alexthatcher69 | June 2014
In Learning Companion 3, Steve Hinchliffe suggests that risk can be considered as "the balance between the benefits of an activity ... and its costs", and further suggests that a risk society is one "where we are increasingly aware of the risks we face and the consequences of having that knowledge." (2009, p. 28). This report will look at some other definitions of risk and will examine the theory that we live in a risk society. Furthermore, it will offer some ways in which risk is managed by both individuals and experts and will explore the role of the social sciences in understanding risk. What is risk?

Risk is largely unavoidable in contemporary, everyday life. It can involve hazard or danger, usually includes an element of uncertainty and, according to Carter and Jordan, "refers to the chance of something happening ... [and] of known outcome combined with the consequences of the outcome" (2009, p. 59). Carter and Jordan also suggest that the value attached to risk is usually negative and that if "the bad thing can be avoided then some benefit may be gained" (2009, P. 59). Tim Jordan, on the audio CD A Risky world', suggests that risk is a combination of known outcomes and unknown outcomes, the consideration of which allows for what he calls "managed uncertainty" (2009, track 3). What is a risk society?

Ulrich Beck is one of a number of social theorists to have suggested that we now live in a risk society. He claims that a move from an industrial past towards an increasingly knowledge based future combined with rapid technological and scientific advancement, rather than protecting us, is actually helping to cause harm (Woodward, 2010, p. 165). He further suggests that experts are increasingly relied upon to make sense of risks that are often invisible and, in contrast to risks from natural disasters such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, are largely man-made. However, he further suggests that since expert...