World Crisis, Theory Crisis

At some point in the not so distant past a qualitative change occurred in the perception of the social order, so that it was no longer seen mainly in terms of conflict over the production and distribution of ‘goods’. Rather, it is the production and distribution of ‘bads’ that has come into conflict with the claim of established national institutions to control them. This category shift has turned upside down the institutional and functional organization of modern societies and resulted in a global crisis of interdependence whose forms of political expression are thoroughly polyvalent, in relation to such issues as climate change (‘solar risk’), world poverty, international terrorism or the BSE and AIDS crises. This interdependence crisis is what I mean by ‘world risk society’. It also plunges the social sciences and political theory into crisis in so far as they conceive of modern societies, in a combination of Marx and Weber, as both capitalist and rationally purposive. It is this interdependence of dangers and insecurities produced by civilization – together with the resulting dominance of publicly staged risk perception in the mass media – that constitute the crucial difference from the previous epoch. Thus, all levels of world risk society display a compulsive feigning of control over the uncontrollable – in politics and law, in academic studies, in the economy and in everyday life.

— Ulrich Beck (2004, p. 137)

Beck, U. (2004). Cosmopolitical realism: On the distinction between cosmopolitanism in philosophy and the social sciences. Global Networks, 4(2), 131-156.