Second modernity

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

Where modernity broke down agricultural society in favour of industrial society, second modernity transforms industrial society into a new and more reflexive network society or information society (He 2012, 111 and 215).

Risk society[edit]

Second modernity is marked by a new awareness of the risks — risks to all forms of life, plant, animal and human — created by the very successes of modernity in tackling the problem of human scarcity (Carrier and Nordmann 2011, 449). Systems that previously seemed to offer protection from risks both natural and social are increasingly recognised as producing new man-made risks on a global scale as a byproduct of their functioning (He 2012, 147). Such systems become part of the problem, not the solution. Modernisation and information advances themselves create new social dangers, such as cybercrime (He 2012, 69), while scientific advances open up new areas, like cloning or genetic modification, where decisions are necessarily made without adequate capacity to assess longterm consequences (Allan, Adam, and Carter 1999, xii–ii).

Recognising the fresh dilemmas created by this reflexive modernization, Beck has suggested a new "cosmopolitan Realpolitik" to overcome the difficulties of a world in which national interests can no longer be promoted effectively at the national level alone (Beck 2006, 173).

Knowledge society[edit]

Second modernity has also been linked to the so-called knowledge society, marked by a pluralisation of different types of knowledge (Carrier n.d., 439 and 448). It is characterised in particular by knowledge-dependent risks — the uncertainties manufactured by the information world itself (Harding 2008, 55–58).


Various forms of resistance to second modernity have emerged, among them for example Euroscepticism (Marchetti and Vidović 2010, 171).

Beck himself sees al-Qaeda as a by-product of, as well as resistance to, second modernity, not only in its use of information technology tools, but also in its syncretist ideology (Beck 2006, 113).

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