Living in and coping with world risk society – Ulrich Beck

In this talk (from a few years ago, 2011 I think), sociologist Ulrich Beck outlines and updates his theory of reflexive modernization and the ‘risk society’. He suggests that, to the extent that risk is experienced as omnipresent in the current age, there are only three possible reactions: denial, apathy or transformation. The first, he says, ‘is largely inscribed in modern culture, the second resembles post-modern nihilism, the third is the “cosmopolitan moment” of world risk society’.

In the talk that follows he structures his argument around three key points. In  the first he outlines the distinctive, new features of this world risk society. There is a distinction between risk and catastrophe – they are not the same things. Risk is about the anticipation of catastrophe. This is why, despite the fact that Europe and ‘The West’ are relatively safe, globally speaking, or perhaps even ‘objectively’ so, it is the global anticipation of catastrophe (propagated via symbolic forms in the mass media etc) that is fundamental to the shaping of contemporary societies. These global perceptions of risk have three features: de-localization ( in spatial, temporal and social terms), incalculableness, and non-compensatibility.

His second key point stresses the fundamentally global character of these process, over and against the nation-state as a political level of analysis, and transformative action. Against this methodological nationalism he offers a defence of his cosmopolitan vision for the social sciences, outlined in more detail in his Power and the Global Age (2005). His final point offers some consequences of his position, in general, and a (sympathetic) critique of alternative theoretical conceptions of risk, most notably those of Mary Douglas and Michel Foucault. What is needed is a paradigm shift in the social sciences – the emergence of a cosmopolitan social science – a ‘cosmopolitan turn’.

This defence of cosmopolitanism – his cosmopolitical realpolitik –  is, of course, open to many criticisms and questions, as are his wider arguments about risk, decision-making etc.  There are some questions/discussion after 26 mins or so.

Multispecies Cosmopolitics: 2013 IHR Distinguished Lecture with Donna Haraway

(Haraway appears about 10 mins in)

‘As the IHR’s 2013 Distinguished Lecturer, Donna Haraway, Distinguished Professor Emerita of the History of Consciousness Program at the University of California, Santa Cruz and author of “Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: the Reinvention of Nature,” calls upon her audience to work, play and think in terms of multispecies cosmopolitics, a new approach to recuperating the Terrapolis on which we live.

After centuries of genocides, environmental destruction and its unevenly distributed suffering, and rampant killing of species, as well as individuals, Haraway suggests that humans turn to SF – string figures, science fiction, speculative fabulation, speculative feminism – as mechanisms for envisioning the future.

Working homing pigeons provide guidance for SF thinking, especially as seen through the methodologies and theories of practicing zoo-ethno-graphers. Their investigations of multispecies attachment, detachment, inter- and intra- patience, and inter- and intra- action bring together the social sciences, humanities, arts, and biological and physical sciences and offer crucial tools and knowledge(s). However, these investigations also reveal stunning human ignorance(s) about how to inhabit the world with other animals, rather than to observe and control them’.

Latour’s Tour of Dublin 2012

Bruno Latour is a troll.  A very interesting, witty and often brilliant troll, I grant you but a troll nonetheless.  Earlier this year he was in Dublin and gave two different talks.  The first, at Dublin City University on Friday, February 17th, was given at  a special seminar on interdisciplinarity, the arts and the sciences.  The talk, entitled ‘From Critique to Composition’, addresses nature, science and climate.  We need, he says, to shift our thinking about these matters from one of ‘critique’ to one of ‘composition’ and change matters of fact (back) in to matters of concern. The seminar, and Prof Latour’s trip to Ireland, was organised by the Celsius interdisciplinary research group at DCU, the French Embassy and the Science Gallery, and also to Trispace, DCU.  The second talk, ‘Reenacting Science’, was delivered at Science Gallery, Trinity College a few days later.  Some aspects of the talk are covered in this paper. 

I recommend both but the second is more typically a lecture, with slides etc.  It is perhaps composed a little better.