Revisited: Ulrich Beck on Complex societies and politicians


Few people ever apply a name that sticks to an entire social order, but sociologist Ulrich Beck is one of them. In 1986 in Germany he published Risk Society, and the name has become a touchstone in contemporary sociology. Among the attributes of Risk Society is the one he just mentioned: science has become so powerful that it can neither predict nor control its effects. It generates risks too vast to calculate.

Listen to conversation here

imageHis sociological work focuses on understanding the immediate present without renouncing a critical posture that offers a guide to the future. Current societies, according to Beck, are characterised by their extreme complexity at a moment in history in which traditional political institutions have lost much of the power, a power which has now passed into the hands of multinational companies with their relocation strategies. In this situation, a growing deregulation can also be observed which, in turn, redounds in the appearance of new risks and uncertainties.

As you will have realised Prof Beck is a guy worth listening to and, interestingly, on the day that the UK General Election is called, here are a couple of comments that appealed to me. Perhaps this explains why Politicians felt the need to spend time on other jobs and fiddling their expenses!?

“The task of politics has come up against its own limit…Politics has come to seem a satire of reality”

Interpret his words how you wish but when viewed in the context of the lack of a long term solution to the financial crisis, failure to actually punish those responsible and little or no convincing leadership in response to consistent “right wing” sniping at even feeble attempts to change things I reckon he really does have (yet another) good point.

Related!? I have already used this quote in another blog but it merits inclusion here too :

Joseph Tainter wrote a chilling book called The Collapse of Complex Societies

“When the value of complexity turns negative, a society plagued by an inability to react remains as complex as ever, right up to the moment where it becomes suddenly and dramatically simpler, which is to say right up to the moment of collapse. Collapse is simply the last remaining method of simplification.”

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