Ulrich Beck was one of the most influential sociologists of his time, who redefined modernity and globalization. Born on May 15, 1944, in Stolp, Germany, he grew up in Hanover, studying sociology, philosophy, political science and psychology at the University of Munich, later finishing his degree at the University of Heidelberg.
His early life was shaped by the historical context of World War II and its aftermath. His parents, who were both anarchists, instilled in him a sense of political consciousness from an early age, which would later shape his work as a sociologist. He was also influenced by the student uprisings of 1968, which challenged the existing power structures in Germany and other parts of the world.
Beck’s early academic work focused on the political economy of industrial society, but he soon became interested in the cultural and social transformations that were taking place in Europe and beyond. In the 1980s, he began to develop his ideas about “reflexive modernization,” a term he coined to describe the way in which modern societies were becoming increasingly aware of their own limitations and vulnerabilities.
According to Beck, the era of “industrial society” was coming to an end, and a new type of society was emerging, which he called “risk society.” This new society was characterized by uncertainty and unpredictability, as technological innovations and global economic forces created new risks and challenges.
In his book “Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity,” published in 1986, Beck argued that traditional political ideologies and institutions were unable to deal with the new risks and challenges of the twenty-first century. He called for a new form of politics that could address these issues, based on the principles of democratic participation, social justice and sustainability.
Beck’s work on reflexive modernization and risk society had a profound impact not only on the field of sociology but also on the broader public discourse about globalization and the environment. He became a leading voice in the environmental movement, arguing that ecological concerns could no longer be addressed solely at the national level but required global cooperation and action.
In his later work, Beck turned his attention to the concept of “cosmopolitanism,” which he saw as a response to the challenges of globalization. He argued that cosmopolitanism offered a way of transcending national and cultural differences, based on a shared commitment to universal human rights and values.
Beck’s work has been translated into numerous languages and has had a profound impact on the study of modernity, globalization, and the environment. He has received numerous awards and honors for his contributions to sociology, including the British Sociology Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award and the Prince of Asturias Award for Social Sciences.
Sadly, Ulrich Beck passed away in 2015, leaving behind a legacy of innovative and groundbreaking scholarship. His work continues to inspire scholars and activists around the world, who are committed to addressing the challenges of the twenty-first century and building a more just and sustainable society.