Friday, 3 September 2010

The Risk Society and Reflexivity

In some ways it's true to say that the world we have created necessitates individuals making a rich variety of communicative acts in order to survive in it. To learn to do this it isn't necessary to go to University, but it's something University tends to produce in people. What is it about the world which requires this?

Ulrich Beck identifies it as the 'risk society' where individuals constantly have to engage in high-level evaluations, often taking action appropriately, and where the risks of acting inappropriately are serious threats to their viable existence. For this reason he sees 'reflexivity' as the quality individuals require for doing this.

I certainly think there's something in this analysis - much better than the "we've got so much technology now... the kids have gotta have the skills... etc". Beck says the kids have to exercise judgement, which in many cases they can only do through skilled technical and linguistic performances.

At the same time as I'm attracted by this, I have doubts. Risk, judgement and agency are complex, and risk seems to narrow to characterise our society; judgement has always been important. But typically, judgement has been important in public life. If there is more 'risk' is it because more of us are engaged in 'public life' in some form?

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