Ulrich Beck

Last updated

Ulrich Beck
Ulrich Beck, 2012
Born(1944-05-15)15 May 1944
Stolp, Germany
(now Słupsk, Poland)
Died1 January 2015(2015-01-01) (aged 70) [1]
Nationality German
Occupation Sociologist

Ulrich Beck (15 May 1944 – 1 January 2015) was a well known German sociologist, and one of the most cited social scientists in the world during his lifetime. [2] His work focused on questions of uncontrollability, ignorance and uncertainty in the modern age, and he coined the terms "risk society" and "second modernity" or "reflexive modernization". He also tried to overturn national perspectives that predominated in sociological investigations with a cosmopolitanism that acknowledges the interconnectedness of the modern world. He was a professor at the University of Munich and also held appointments at the Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme (FMSH) in Paris, and at the London School of Economics.

Germany Federal parliamentary republic in central-western Europe

Germany, officially the Federal Republic of Germany, is a country in Central and Western Europe, lying between the Baltic and North Seas to the north, and the Alps, Lake Constance and the High Rhine to the south. It borders Denmark to the north, Poland and the Czech Republic to the east, Austria and Switzerland to the south, France to the southwest, and Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands to the west.

Sociology of scientific ignorance

The sociology of scientific ignorance (SSI) is the study of ignorance in and of science. The most common way is to see ignorance as something relevant, rather than simply lack of knowledge. There are two distinct areas in which SSI is being studied: some focus on ignorance in scientific research, whereas other focus on public ignorance of science. Sociology of scientific ignorance is a complementary field to the sociology of scientific knowledge (SSK).

Uncertainty situation which involves imperfect and/or unknown information

Uncertainty refers to epistemic situations involving imperfect or unknown information. It applies to predictions of future events, to physical measurements that are already made, or to the unknown. Uncertainty arises in partially observable and/or stochastic environments, as well as due to ignorance, indolence, or both. It arises in any number of fields, including insurance, philosophy, physics, statistics, economics, finance, psychology, sociology, engineering, metrology, meteorology, ecology and information science.



Ulrich Beck in his flat in Munich, 1999 UlrichBeck.jpg
Ulrich Beck in his flat in Munich, 1999

Beck was born in the Pomeranian town of Stolp, Germany (now Słupsk in Poland), in 1944, and grew up in Hanover. He began university studies with a focus on law at Freiburg, and from 1966 onwards studied sociology, philosophy, psychology and political science at the University of Munich. Starting in 1972, after earning a doctorate, he was employed at Munich as a sociologist. In 1979 he qualified as a university lecturer with a habilitation thesis. He received appointments as professor at the universities of Münster (1979–1981) and Bamberg (1981–1992). From 1992 until his death, Beck was professor of sociology and director of the Institute for Sociology at the University of Munich. He received numerous international awards and honors, including election to the Council and Executive Board of the German Society for Sociology.

Province of Pomerania (1815–1945) 1815–1945

The Province of Pomerania was a province of Prussia from 1815 to 1945. Pomerania was established as a province of the Kingdom of Prussia in 1815, an expansion of the older Brandenburg-Prussia province of Pomerania, and then became part of the German Empire in 1871. From 1918, Pomerania was a province of the Free State of Prussia until it was dissolved in 1945 following World War II, and its territory divided between Poland and Allied-occupied Germany.

Nazi Germany The German state from 1933 to 1945, under the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler

Nazi Germany is the common English name for Germany between 1933 and 1945, when Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party (NSDAP) controlled the country through a dictatorship. Under Hitler's rule, Germany was transformed into a totalitarian state where nearly all aspects of life were controlled by the government. The official name of the state was Deutsches Reich until 1943 and Großdeutsches Reich from 1943 to 1945. Nazi Germany is also known as the Third Reich, meaning "Third Realm" or "Third Empire", the first two being the Holy Roman Empire (800–1806) and the German Empire (1871–1918). The Nazi regime ended after the Allies defeated Germany in May 1945, ending World War II in Europe.

Poland Republic in Central Europe

Poland, officially the Republic of Poland, is a country located in Central Europe. It is divided into 16 administrative subdivisions, covering an area of 312,696 square kilometres (120,733 sq mi), and has a largely temperate seasonal climate. With a population of approximately 38.5 million people, Poland is the sixth most populous member state of the European Union. Poland's capital and largest metropolis is Warsaw. Other major cities include Kraków, Łódź, Wrocław, Poznań, Gdańsk, and Szczecin.

From 1995 to 1997 he was a member of the Kommission für Zukunftsfragen der Freistaaten Bayern und Sachsen (Bavarian and Saxon State Commission for Questions Concerning the Future). Beginning in 1999, he was the speaker of the DFG research programme on reflexive modernity.

Bavaria State in Germany

Bavaria, officially the Free State of Bavaria, is a landlocked federal state of Germany, occupying its southeastern corner. With an area of 70,550.19 square kilometres, Bavaria is the largest German state by land area comprising roughly a fifth of the total land area of Germany. With 13 million inhabitants, it is Germany's second-most-populous state after North Rhine-Westphalia. Bavaria's main cities are Munich and Nuremberg.

Saxony State in Germany

Saxony, officially the Free State of Saxony, is a landlocked federal state of Germany, bordering the federal states of Brandenburg, Saxony Anhalt, Thuringia, and Bavaria, as well as the countries of Poland and the Czech Republic. Its capital is Dresden, and its largest city is Leipzig.

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft German research foundation

The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft is a German research funding organization.

From 1999 to 2009 Beck was a spokesman of the Collaborative Reflexive Modernization Research Centre 536, an interdisciplinary consortium of four universities in the Munich area funded and overseen by the German Research Foundation (DFG). [3] Beck's theory of interdisciplinary reflexive modernization on a basis of a wide range of topics in appropriate research was empirically tested. The theory of reflexive modernization works from the basic idea that the rise of the modern industrial age produces side-effects across the globe that provide the institutional basis and coordinates that modern nation-states question, modify, and open for political action. [4]

He was active as sociologist and public intellectual in Germany and throughout the world, regularly intervening in debates on the European Union, climate change and nuclear energy. At the time of his death, he and his international research group were only 1.5 years into the 5-year research project "Methodological Cosmopolitanism – in the Laboratory of Climate Change" (the Cosmo-Climate Research Project), of which Beck was the Principal investigator. For this research project he received the prestigious ERC Advanced Grant, scheduled to terminate in 2018. [5] Along with Beck, sociologists David Tyfield and Anders Blok lead work packages within the overall project. [6] The project also fostered international research collaboration with various research 'hubs' in East Asia through the Europe-Asia Research Network (EARN). [7] In cooperation with EARN, Beck and sociologist Sang-Jin Han had been set to lead a 2-year project for the Seoul Metropolitan Government beginning in 2015. [8]

In Canada and the United States, the term principal investigator (PI) refers to the holder of an independent grant and the lead researcher for the grant project, usually in the sciences, such as a laboratory study or a clinical trial. The phrase is also often used as a synonym for "head of the laboratory" or "research group leader." While the expression is common in the sciences, it is used widely for the person or persons who make final decisions and supervise funding and expenditures on a given research project.

Seoul Metropolitan Government

The Seoul Metropolitan Government is a local government of Seoul, South Korea. The mayor is elected to a four-year term by the Seoul citizens and is responsible for the administration of the city government. Seoul Metropolitan Government deals with administrative affairs as the capital city of South Korea, so it is more centralized than that of most other cities with the city government being responsible for correctional institutions, public education, libraries, public safety, recreational facilities, sanitation, water supply, and welfare services.

Beck was a member of the Board of Trustees at the Jewish Center in Munich and a member of the German branch of PEN International.

He was married to the German social scientist Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim. He died of a cardiac infarction on 1 January 2015, at the age of 70. [9]

Research contributions

For 25 years, Beck delivered new diagnoses to the following question: How can social and political thought and action in the face of radical global change (environmental destruction, financial crisis, global warming, the crisis of democracy and the nation-state institutions) be intertwined in a new modernity? [10] A radicalized modernity, for Beck, attacks its own foundations. Institutions such as the nation-state and the family are globalized 'from the inside'.

Beck studied modernization, ecological problems, individualization and globalization. Later in his career, he embarked on exploring the changing conditions of work in a world of increasing global capitalism, declining influence of unions and flexibilisation of the labour process, a then new theory rooted in the concept of cosmopolitanism. Beck also contributed a number of new words to German and anglophone sociology, including "risk society", "second modernity", reflexive modernization and Brazilianization (Brasilianisierung).[ citation needed ] According to Beck, all contemporary political thinking emanates from the methodological nationalism of political thought and sociology (and other social sciences). [11]

Risk society was coined by Ulrich Beck and Anthony Giddens during the 1980s. According to Beck and Giddens, the traditional industrial class structure of modern society is breaking apart. Globalization creates risks that concern people from all different classes; for example, radioactivity, pollution, and even unemployment. Affluent households act to insulate themselves from these risks, but cannot do so for some; for example global environmental change. The poor suffer them. He points out that risks are also socially constructed and some risks are perceived as more dangerous because they are discussed in mass media more frequently, such as terrorism. Risk society leads to analysis of risks, causing prejudgment. [12]

Beck was the editor of the sociological journal, Soziale Welt  [ de ] (in German, since 1980), author of some 150 articles, and author or editor of many books.

The Spinelli Group

On 15 September 2010 Beck supported the European Parliament's Spinelli Group initiative to reinvigorate federalism in the European Union. The Union of European Federalists and its youth organisation Young European Federalists have been promoting the idea of European federalism for over 60 years, with a "belief that only a European Federation, based on the idea of unity in diversity, could overcome the division of the European continent". [13] Prominent supporters of the initiative include Jacques Delors, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Guy Verhofstadt, Andrew Duff and Elmar Brok.[ citation needed ]



Among his major works are:



Literature on Beck

See also

Related Research Articles

Jürgen Habermas German sociologist and philosopher

Jürgen Habermas is a German philosopher and sociologist in the tradition of critical theory and pragmatism. He is perhaps best known for his theories on communicative rationality and the public sphere. In 2014, Prospect readers chose Habermas as one of their favourites among the "world's leading thinkers".

Niklas Luhmann German sociologist, administration expert, and social systems theorist

Niklas Luhmann was a German sociologist, philosopher of social science, and a prominent thinker in systems theory, who is considered one of the most important social theorists of the 20th century.

Ecological modernization is a school of thought in the social sciences that argues that the economy benefits from moves towards environmentalism. It has gained increasing attention among scholars and policymakers in the last several decades internationally. It is an analytical approach as well as a policy strategy and environmental discourse.

Anthony Giddens British sociologist

Anthony Giddens, Baron Giddens is a British sociologist who is known for his theory of structuration and his holistic view of modern societies. He is considered to be one of the most prominent modern sociologists and the author of at least 34 books, published in at least 29 languages, issuing on average more than one book every year. In 2007, Giddens was listed as the fifth most-referenced author of books in the humanities.

Norbert Elias German sociologist

Norbert Elias was a German sociologist who later became a British citizen. He is especially famous for his theory of civilizing/decivilizing processes.

Peter Wagner is a German social and political theorist. His research focus is with the issues of social theory and political philosophy of contemporary Europe. He has done comparative research in the history of the social sciences, and has in his publications attempted to formulate and utilize a sociology of modernity. He is a former Professor of Social and Political Theory at the European University Institute, Florence, a Professor of Sociology at the University of Warwick and an ICREA Research Professor at University of Barcelona.

Risk society is the manner in which modern society organizes in response to risk. The term is closely associated with several key writers on modernity, in particular Ulrich Beck and Anthony Giddens. The term was coined in the 1980s and its popularity during the 1990s was both as a consequence of its links to trends in thinking about wider modernity, and also to its links to popular discourse, in particular the growing environmental concerns during the period.

The concept of reflexive modernization or reflexive modernity was launched by a joint effort of three of the leading European sociologists — Anthony Giddens, Ulrich Beck and Scott Lash. The introduction of this concept served a double purpose: to reassess sociology as a science of the present ; and to provide a counterbalance to the postmodernist paradigm offering a re-constructive view alongside deconstruction.

Second modernity is a phrase coined by the German sociologist Ulrich Beck, and is his word for the period after modernity.

Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim German sociologist & scholar

Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim, is a German sociologist. She holds a professorship at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg.

Late modernity is the characterization of today's highly developed global societies as the continuation of modernity rather than as an element of the succeeding era known as postmodernity, or the postmodern.

The double hermeneutic is the theory, expounded by sociologist Anthony Giddens, that everyday "lay" concepts and those from the social sciences have a two-way relationship. A common example is the idea of social class, a social-scientific category that has entered into wide use in society. The double hermeneutic is held to be a distinguishing feature of the social sciences.

Scott Lash is a professor of sociology and cultural studies at Goldsmiths, University of London. Lash obtained a BSc in Psychology from the University of Michigan, an MA in Sociology from Northwestern University, and a PhD from the London School of Economics (1980). Lash began his teaching career as a lecturer at Lancaster University and became a professor in 1993. He moved to London in 1998 to take up his present post as Director for the Centre for Cultural Studies and Professor of Sociology at Goldsmiths College.

Individualization may refer to

The following events related to sociology occurred in the 1990s.

Brian Wynne is Professor Emeritus of Science Studies and a former Research Director of the Centre for the Study of Environmental Change (CSEC) at the Lancaster University. His education includes an MA, PhD, MPhil. His work has covered technology and risk assessment, public risk perceptions, and public understanding of science, focusing on the relations between expert and lay knowledge and policy decision-making.

Daniel Levy is a German–American political sociologist and an Associate Professor of Sociology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Levy earned a Bachelor of Arts in sociology and political science (1986) and a Master of Arts in sociology (1990) from Tel Aviv University, as well as a Doctorate of sociology from Columbia University in 1999. He is a specialist on issues relating to globalization, collective memory studies, and comparative historical sociology. Levy, along with the historians Paul Gootenberg and Herman Lebovics, is a founder and organizer of the Initiative for Historical Social Science, a program that is run out of Stony Brook with the goal of promoting the "New Historical Social Sciences". He also, along with the Human Rights scholar and historian Elazar Barkan, is the founder of the "History, Redress, and Reconciliation" Seminar series at Columbia University. The seminars are an attempt to provide "a forum for interdisciplinary work on issues at the intersection of history, memory, and contemporary politics" focusing particularly on the "redressing [of] past wrongs and gross violations of human rights."

Martin Albrow is a British sociologist, noted for his works on globalization, the theory of the global age and global civil society. He was appointed in 1963 as the first full-time sociologist at Reading University, and subsequently worked at University College Cardiff, where he was Head of Department, and at Roehampton University. He has also held visiting or guest positions at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the London School of Economics, the State University of New York at Stony Brook, the Beijing Foreign Studies University, and the University of Bonn.

Gerard Delanty is a British sociologist and Professor of Sociology and Social & Political Thought at the University of Sussex. He is also the editor of European Journal of Social Theory.

Han Sang-jin is a South Korean sociologist in the tradition of critical theory, known for his Joongmin theory. He is Professor Emeritus at the Department of Sociology, Seoul National University, Korea, and a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Peking University, China. He has lectured as Visiting Professor at Columbia University in New York, United States, School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences in Paris, France, the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina, and Kyoto University in Japan. His major areas of interest are: social theory, political sociology, human rights and transitional justice, middle class politics, participatory risk governance, Confucianism and East Asian development.


  1. "Communiqué de la maison d'édition d'Ulrich Beck de son décès". Suhrkamp Verlag . Retrieved 3 January 2015.
  2. PDF at www.manuelcastells.info
  3. Collaborative Reflexive Modetnization Research Centre 536
  4. Ulrich Beck and Wolfgang Bonß (ed.): The modernization of modernity. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main 2001; Ulrich Beck and Christoph Lau (ed.): Delimitation and Decision. Frankfurt 2004 special issue of the journal Social World: theory and empirical reflexive modernization, 2005
  5. http://erc.europa.eu/methodological-cosmopolitanism-laboratory-climate-change
  6. See, e.g., http://www.soc.ku.dk/english/about/news/project_greening/
  7. http://cosmostudies.com/east-asian-research-network/
  8. http://isa-global-dialogue.net/in-memory-of-professor-ulrich-beck-january-8-2015/
  9. Ulrich Beck obituary
  10. Ulrich Beck: World Risk Society. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main, 2007
  11. Ulrich Beck and Edgar Grande: Beyond methodological nationalism: Non-European and European variations of the second modernity, in: Social World 2010
  12. See also: Joachim Möller, Achim Schmillen: Hohe Konzentration auf wenige – steigendes Risiko für alle (IAB-Kurzbericht 24/2008)
  13. "Union of European Federalists (UEF): History". www.federalists.eu. Retrieved 2018-03-31.
  14. German-British Forum Awards Archived 2012-11-14 at the Wayback Machine
  15. Programm XVIII ISA World Congress of Sociology Archived 2014-08-19 at the Wayback Machine
  16. Soziologe Prof. Dr. Ulrich Beck wird neuer Ehrendoktor der Katholischen Universität Eichstätt-Ingolstadt Archived 2015-01-05 at the Wayback Machine , Mitteilung der Katholischen Universität Eichstätt-Ingolstadt vom 8. November 2010; retrieved, 3 January 2015