Ulrich Beck

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Ulrich Beck (2007)

Ulrich Beck (born May 15, 1944) is a German sociologist. He coined the term risk society and is a professor of Sociology at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich until 2009. He holds a professorship at Munich University and at the London School of Economics.


Beck was born in the Pomeranian town of Stolp, Germany (now Słupsk in Poland) in 1944. From 1966 onwards, he studied sociology, philosophy, psychology and political science at Munich University. In 1972, he attained a Doctor of Philosophy at Munich University and then worked there as a sociologist. In 1979 he qualified as a university lecturer. He was professor at the universities of Münster (1979–1981) and Bamberg (1981–1992). Since 1992, Beck has been professor of sociology and director of the Institute for Sociology at Munich University. He is also the British Journal of Sociology Professor at the London School of Economics. He has received many international awards and honours. He was also elected to the Convention and Executive Board of the German Society for Sociology.

From 1995 to 1997 Beck was a member of the Kommission für Zukunftsfragen der Freistaaten Bayern und Sachsen (Commission for Future Questions of the Free States of Bavaria and Saxony). Since 1999 he has been the speaker of the DFG research programme on reflexive modernity.

From 1999 to 2009 Beck was a spokesman of the German Research Foundation (DFG) funded and overseen by Collaborative Reflexive Modernization Research Centre 536, an interdisciplinary cooperation relationship between four universities in the Munich area.[1] 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.[2]

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

He is married to the German social scientist Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim.


Beck currently studies modernization, ecological problems, individualization and globalization. Recently he has also 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 new theory rooted in the concept of cosmopolitanism. Beck has also contributed a number of new words in German sociology, including "risk society", "second modernity", reflexive modernization and brazilianization (Brasilianisierung).

The Spinelli Group[edit]

On 15 September 2010 Beck supported the new initiative Spinelli Group in the European Parliament, which was founded to reinvigorate the effort to federalize the European Union (EU). For over 60 years, the Union of European Federalists (UEF) and its youth organisation Young European Federalists (JEF) with a “belief that only a European Federation, based on the idea of unity in diversity, could overcome the division of the European continent”have been actively working to promote the idea of European federalism. There are a total of 35 members, including some prominent supporters such as: Jacques Delors, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Guy Verhofstadt, Andrew Duff and Elmar Brok.

The 'risk society' concept[edit]

Main article: Risk society

Risk society is a term 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 concerns people from all different classes; for example, radioactivity, pollution, and even unemployment. 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.[3]


For 25 years, Beck has been delivering 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 for the new modernity?[4] The radicalized modernity cuts down its own foundations. Based institutions such as the nation-state and the family are globalized from the inside. According to Beck, all contemporary political thinking comes from the methodological nationalism of political thought and sociology (and other social sciences).[5]

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

Main works
  • Beck, Ulrich (1986) Risikogesellschaft - Auf dem Weg in eine andere Moderne (Risk Society)
  • Beck, Ulrich (1988) Gegengifte : die organisierte Unverantwortlichkeit. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.
  • Beck, Ulrich (1992) Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity. London: Sage
  • Beck, Ulrich & Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim: Riskante Freiheiten - Gesellschaftliche Individualisierungsprozesse in der Moderne (1994)
  • Beck, Ulrich & Giddens, Anthony & Lash Scott (1994) Reflexive Modernization.Politics, Tradition and Aesthetics in the Modern Social Order. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Beck, Vossenkuhl, Ziegler, photographs by T. Rautert Eigenes Leben - Ausflüge in die unbekannte Gesellschaft, in der wir leben (1995)
  • Beck-Gernsheim, Elisabeth & Beck, Ulrich (1995) The Normal Chaos of Love. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Beck, Ulrich (1995) Ecological Politics in an Age of Risk. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Beck, Ulrich (1996) The Reinvention of Politics.Rethinking Modernity in the Global Social Order. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Was ist Globalisierung? (1997)
  • Beck, Ulrich (1998) Democracy without Enemies. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Beck, Ulrich (1998) World Risk Society. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Beck, Ulrich (1999) What Is Globalization?. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Beck, Ulrich (2000) The Brave New World of Work. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Adam, Barbara & Beck, Ulrich & Van Loon, Joost (2000) The Risk Society and Beyond: Critical Issues for Social Theory. London: Sage.
  • Beck, Ulrich & Beck-Gernsheim, Elisabeth (2002) Individualization: Institutionalized Individualism and its Social and Political Consequences. London: Sage.
  • Beck, Ulrich & Willms, Johannes (2003) Conversations with Ulrich Beck. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Beck, Ulrich (2005) Power in the Global Age. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Beck, Ulrich (2006) Cosmopolitan Vision. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Beck, U., & Grande, E. (2007). Cosmopolitan Europe. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Beck, Ulrich. (2009). World at Risk. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Beck, Ulrich & Grande, Edgar (2010) "Varieties of second modernity: extra-European and European experiences and perspectives" British Journal of Sociology, Vol 61, Issue 3, pages 406–638.
  • Beck, Ulrich (2013) German Europe. Cambridge: Polity Press. (Das deutsche Europa, Berlin 2012)


Ulrich Beck is one of the most famous German sociologist of present day, being one of the most cited social scientists in the world.[6] His works have been and are being translated into more than 35 languages. In 1999 Beck was awarded with the CICERO speakers prize, in 1996 with the Cultural Prize of Honour City of Munich, 1999 with the German-British Forum Award for outstanding contributions to German-British relations (along with Anthony Giddens).[7] Furthermore, Beck has received a prize from the DGS (German Sociological Association) for outstanding achievements in the field of public activity in sociology in 2004 and in the following year the Schader Prize, the highest prize award for social scientists in Germany. So far he has been awarded six honorary doctorates - University of Jyväskylä / Finland 1996, University of Macerata / Italy 2006, Madrid University (UNED) / Spain, 2007, University of Lausanne / Switzerland, 2011, Free University of Varna / Bulgaria, 2011.

In 2013 he received the ERC advanced grant to carry out the Cosmo-Climate Research Project (Methodological Cosmopolitanism: In the Laboratory of Climate Change), with David Tyfield and Anders Blok amongst others.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Collaborative Reflexive Modetnization Research Centre 536
  2. ^ 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
  3. ^ See also: Joachim Möller, Achim Schmillen: Hohe Konzentration auf wenige – steigendes Risiko für alle (IAB-Kurzbericht 24/2008)
  4. ^ Ulrich Beck: World Risk Society. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main, 2007
  5. ^ Ulrich Beck and Edgar Grande: Beyond methodological nationalism: Non-European and European variations of the second modernity, in: Social World 2010
  6. ^ PDF at www.manuelcastells.info
  7. ^ German-British Forum Awards

External links[edit]