Ulrich Beck

Ulrich Beck

Ulrich Beck, 2012
Born (1944-05-15)15 May 1944
Stolp, Germany (now Słupsk in Poland)
Died 1 January 2015(2015-01-01) (aged 70)[1]
Nationality German
Occupation Sociologist

Ulrich Beck (May 15, 1944 – January 1, 2015) was a well known German sociologist, and one of the most cited social scientists in the world during his lifetime.[2] His work focused on questions of uncontrollability, ignorance and uncertainty in the modern age, and he coined the terms "risk society" and "second modernity" or "reflexive modernization" . He also tried to overturn national perspectives that predominated in sociological investigations with a cosmopolitanism that acknowledges the interconnectedness of the modern world. He was a professor at the University of Munich and also held appointments at the Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme (FMSH) in Paris, and at the London School of Economics.


Ulrich Beck in his flat in Munich, 1999

Beck was born in the Pomeranian town of Stolp, Germany (now Słupsk in Poland), in 1944, and grew up in Hanover. He began university studies with a focus on law at Freiburg, and from 1966 onwards studied sociology, philosophy, psychology and political science at the University of Munich. Starting in 1972, after earning a doctorate, he was employed at Munich as a sociologist. In 1979 he qualified as a university lecturer with a habilitation thesis. He received appointments as professor at the universities of Münster (1979–1981) and Bamberg (1981–1992). From 1992 until his death, Beck was professor of sociology and director of the Institute for Sociology at the University of Munich. He received numerous international awards and honors, including election to the Council and Executive Board of the German Society for Sociology.

From 1995 to 1997 he was a member of the Kommission für Zukunftsfragen der Freistaaten Bayern und Sachsen (Bavarian and Saxon State Commission for Questions Concerning the Future). Beginning in 1999, he was the speaker of the DFG research programme on reflexive modernity.

From 1999 to 2009 Beck was a spokesman of the Collaborative Reflexive Modernization Research Centre 536, an interdisciplinary consortium of four universities in the Munich area funded and overseen by the German Research Foundation (DFG).[3] 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.[4]

He was active as sociologist and public intellectual in Germany and throughout the world, regularly intervening in debates on the European Union, climate change and nuclear energy. At the time of his death, he and his international research group were only 1.5 years into the 5-year research project "Methodological Cosmopolitanism – in the Laboratory of Climate Change" (the Cosmo-Climate Research Project), of which Beck was the Principal investigator. For this research project he received the prestigious ERC Advanced Grant, scheduled to terminate in 2018.[5] Along with Beck, sociologists David Tyfield and Anders Blok lead work packages within the overall project.[6] The project also fostered international research collaboration with various research 'hubs' in East Asia through the Europe-Asia Research Network (EARN).[7] In cooperation with EARN, Beck and sociologist Sang-Jin Han had been set to lead a 2-year project for the Seoul Metropolitan Government beginning in 2015.[8]

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

He was married to the German social scientist Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim. He died of a cardiac infarction on 1 January 2015, at the age of 70.[9]

Research contributions

For 25 years, Beck delivered 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 in a new modernity?[10] A radicalized modernity, for Beck, attacks its own foundations. Institutions such as the nation-state and the family are globalized 'from the inside'.

Beck studied modernization, ecological problems, individualization and globalization. Later in his career, he 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 then new theory rooted in the concept of cosmopolitanism. Beck also contributed a number of new words to German and anglophone sociology, including "risk society", "second modernity", reflexive modernization and Brazilianization (Brasilianisierung). According to Beck, all contemporary political thinking emanates from the methodological nationalism of political thought and sociology (and other social sciences).[11]

Main article: Risk society

Risk society was 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. Affluent households act to insulate themselves from these risks, but cannot do so for some; for example global environmental change. The poor suffer them. 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.[12]

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

The Spinelli Group

On 15 September 2010 Beck supported the European Parliament's Spinelli Group initiative to reinvigorate federalism in the European Union. The Union of European Federalists and its youth organisation Young European Federalists have been promoting the idea of European federalism for over 60 years, with a "belief that only a European Federation, based on the idea of unity in diversity, could overcome the division of the European continent". Prominent supporters of the initiative include Jacques Delors, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Guy Verhofstadt, Andrew Duff and Elmar Brok.



Among his major works are:

  • Beck, Ulrich (1974) Objectivity and normativity. The theory-practice debate in modern German and American sociology. Reinbek, Rowohlt.
  • Beck, Ulrich with Michael Brater and Hans Jürgen (1980). Home: sociology of work and occupations. Basics, problem areas, research results, Rowohlt paperback Verlag GmbH, Reinbek.
  • 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 (1994) Riskante Freiheiten – Gesellschaftliche Individualisierungsprozesse in der Moderne
  • 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 (1995) Eigenes Leben – Ausflüge in die unbekannte Gesellschaft, in der wir leben
  • 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.
  • Beck, Ulrich (1997) Was ist Globalisierung?
  • 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.
  • Angelika Poferl and Ulrich Beck (eds.) (2010) Große Armut, großer Reichtum. Zur Transnationalisierung sozialer Ungleichheit. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag.
  • 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 (2012) Das deutsche Europa, Berlin
  • Beck, Ulrich (2013) German Europe. Cambridge: Polity Press.
  • Beck, Ulrich and Ciaran Cronin (2014) Cosmopolitan Vision. Cambridge: Polity Press.



Literature on Beck

See also


  1. "Communiqué de la maison d'édition d'Ulrich Beck de son décès". Suhrkamp Verlag. Retrieved 3 January 2015.
  2. PDF at www.manuelcastells.info
  3. Collaborative Reflexive Modetnization Research Centre 536
  4. 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
  5. http://erc.europa.eu/methodological-cosmopolitanism-laboratory-climate-change
  6. See, e.g., http://www.soc.ku.dk/english/about/news/project_greening/
  7. http://cosmostudies.com/east-asian-research-network/
  8. http://isa-global-dialogue.net/in-memory-of-professor-ulrich-beck-january-8-2015/
  9. Ulrich Beck obituary
  10. Ulrich Beck: World Risk Society. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main, 2007
  11. Ulrich Beck and Edgar Grande: Beyond methodological nationalism: Non-European and European variations of the second modernity, in: Social World 2010
  12. See also: Joachim Möller, Achim Schmillen: Hohe Konzentration auf wenige – steigendes Risiko für alle (IAB-Kurzbericht 24/2008)
  13. German-British Forum Awards
  14. Programm XVIII ISA World Congress of Sociology
  15. Soziologe Prof. Dr. Ulrich Beck wird neuer Ehrendoktor der Katholischen Universität Eichstätt-Ingolstadt, Mitteilung der Katholischen Universität Eichstätt-Ingolstadt vom 8. November 2010; abgerufen am 3. Januar 2015

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