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POPH90245 Health Illness And Society

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  • Course Code: POPH90245
  • University: University Of Melbourne
  • Country: Australia


Make sure your argument is clearly articulated and your written piece well organised to convey your argument. You may use specific example(s) to illustrate your argument

Specific criteria

  • Clear description of the chosen contemporary theorist
  • Clear explanation of the particular value of this social theory
  • Clear summary of the flaws that have been identified with this social theory
  • Description how this social theoretical perspective has been used to enhance our understanding of public health

Generic criteria

  • Critical thinking
  • Coherent written expression
  • Logical organisation and presentation
  • Evidence of editing & proofreading



Ulrich Beck is a famous contemporary social theorist of modernity who has written comprehensively on both globalization and risk. The ‘Risk society’ theory by Ulrich Beck focuses on risk, individualization and reflective modernity. Beck explains that risks are a consequence of increased modernization and industrialization. Beck believes that the risks are as a result of increased human activities and the risks can be more severe than the epidemics that have occurred in the pre-modern society. Beck also acknowledges the fact that in a modern society there are increased technological activities and hence posing a global risk in the community.  


The value of the Risk society Theory

The ‘Risk society' theory helps in identifying the source of risks and the impact that it has on the health of the people. For instance, Beck asserts that the primary source of risk is modernization and that the hazards of risks are not confined to one country, they affect all nations and people irrespective of the social class. The consequences of the hazards are universal and not personal. Beck indicates that the industrial society has led to new risks that were not presented in the past. He demonstrates that the risks such as global warming result from this risks and that the effects are severe (3).

The ‘Risk society' theory has helped in increasing our understanding of how the nature and occurrence of risk have changed over time. Beck argues that the nature of the risks has changed over the years. Initially, there were natural hazards such as epidemics, famine floods and earthquakes (8). However, the current risks exacerbate the occurrence of the natural hazards. The risks present in the modern society are as a result of increased development of science and technology ((9). Individuals fail to understand what risk a specific aspect of technology can cause. For instance, no one is informed of the risks associated with the production of genetically modified foods.

Beck refers to the modernity in the current world as the new modernity which introduces several risks to the society. He also identifies the process of individualization which is rampant in the west. Individuals have become free from social, cultural and economic factors that restrict personal decision making, and as a result, they can develop themselves as well as their societies (3).  Individualism is troubled mainly with risk. With the collapse of the customary certainties organized through social class, age, and gender, a high number of risks have been generated inclusive of increased insecurity, unemployment, marital problems and anxiety. Life becomes more unpredictable even when one is free to make his or her decisions. Beck also reveals that people have deserted the old modernity and hence making it easy to make individual choices regardless of the social class.

Beck indicates that there is a considerable difference between the industrial society and the modern society. In the industrial society, there was freedom, welfare, humanism, and equality which is not the case in the contemporary society. The risks present in the current society are caused by creating wealth. The industries are leading to dangerous and hazardous consequences to the community. Beck gives an example of how serious the result of an activity can be by providing an example of how a nuclear explosion in one geographic area can affect other countries (5). He also identifies that social class is vital in the industrial society and risk is essential to it. 

The history of the distribution of risk indicates that similar to wealth, risks sticks to the social class only in reverse, wealth assembles at the top while risk accumulates at the bottom. Therefore, risks tend to strengthen and not to terminate the class society. This indicates that poverty increases the majority of the risks. On the contrary, people with high income, power, and education can achieve safety and adequate freedom from risk. Beck indicates that the developing nations are more vulnerable to risks compared to the rich countries. This explains why emerging nations suffer most from the risks while rich nations try to get rid of the risks as quickly as possible. Beck also indicates that rich countries acquire maximum benefits from the risks to help them deal with the severe effects of risks in the event they occur. For instance, the rich nations engage in the production and sale of technologies that help them deal with the adverse effects that may arise.  

The other difference from the industrial and modern society is that the industrial society was significantly involved, which means that the changes occurring in the society had an effect on the natural environment and hence affecting the society. Beck reveals that nature has been politicized to the extent that the works of natural scientists have been politicized too (1, 4). 

Flaws that have been identified in the Risk Society theory

Becks work has numerous sociological shortcomings such as the reliability of the significant models of the social construction of risk. Beck links risk to the social class. He reveals that it is difficult for people of low socioeconomic status to control risks compared to people with high socioeconomic status. He argues that hazards such as climate change may affect every person only that the less financially stable are more vulnerable compared to the financially stable. However, he fails to acknowledge the other factors play an important role in increasing risks in the society (3).

Beck failed to identify the relationship between the changes in institutions on one hand and self-referentiality and critical reflection on the other. Institutions keep changing as well as their knowledge and control of risks. Beck also fails to acknowledge the emotional, cultural and interpersonal factors that affect and structure the process of monitoring risks in the society. Becks belief that the reinvention of politics established on the invasion of risk into the daily life cannot deal with risks such as floods, earthquake and other natural disasters (2).

How the Risk society Theory has been used to enhance our understanding of Public Health

The Risk society Theory has enhanced our understanding of public health by identifying the source of risks and their impact on the health. Public health is a discipline that aims at identifying and managing risks; the theory is essential in ensuring that both the lives and health of the people are protected. The argument has helped us understand how social class has a significant impact on managing risks. In public health, it is clear that the rich can control the severe effects of risks compared to the less financially stable. Therefore, this theory has helped us gain a better understanding of how social class affects risk management (7, 10).

The Risk society theory has helped in understanding how modernization and industrialization have led to increased risk which is a significant subject in Public health. The risks identified by Beck pose a threat to lives and the health of the people. Risks such as global warming may lead to an increase in chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPDs) and other devastating effects on health (5, 6).

In conclusion, the Risk Society Theory has played an essential role in identifying how things have changed from the past and how the risks have increased in the modern society. Beck recognizes how human activities have the potential to affect the health of the people. He also explains how third world countries may have a challenge in managing the risks as opposed to the rich countries. This indicates that individuals should work on eliminating the risks to safeguard their health.



Beck U. Ecological politics in an age of risk. John Wiley & Sons; 2018 Mar 13.

Beck U. Risk society. Essential Concepts of Global Environmental Governance. 2014 Jul 11:178.

Beck U. Risk society: Towards a new modernity. Sage; 1992 Sep 3.

Beck U. The reinvention of politics: Rethinking modernity in the global social order. John Wiley & Sons; 2018 Mar 12.

Beck U. What is globalization?. John Wiley & Sons; 2018 Mar 13.

Blumer H. Industrialization as an agent of social change: A critical analysis. Routledge; 2018 Jan 16.

Renn O. Risk governance: coping with uncertainty in a complex world. Routledge; 2017 Dec 4.

Rosa E, McCright A, Renn O. The risk society revisited: Social theory and risk governance. Temple University Press; 2013.

Van Loon, J. (2013). Risk and technological culture: Towards a sociology of virulence. Routledge.

Alexander DE. Resilience and disaster risk reduction: an etymological journey. Natural hazards and earth system sciences. 2013 Nov 5;13(11):2707-16.

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