Social Theory & Health

, Volume 2, Issue 3, pp 199–221

Health, Risk and Uncertainty in the Life Course: A Typology of Biographical Certainty Constructions


  • Jens O Zinn
    • Dr. Jens O. Zinn, University of Kent at Canterbury
Original Article

DOI: 10.1057/palgrave.sth.8700033

Cite this article as:
Zinn, J. Soc Theory Health (2004) 2: 199. doi:10.1057/palgrave.sth.8700033


As a result of continuous social change, it seems more and more difficult today to produce biographical certainty in the sense of clear expectations and the shaping of one's own life course. What was previously taken for granted is being transformed into (real or apparent) decisions by means of social individualization processes and individual processes of building up one's own biography (Beck, 1992). Life courses are no longer simply given, but (allegedly) dependent on decisions, and if this premise is accepted, the pressure on individuals rises to make the right decisions. Against this background, the essay aims to determine the different action and interpretation patterns with which biographical certainty is created under the conditions of a systematically uncertain world. A typology of biographical certainty developed on the basis of qualitative interviews will be presented. At the end of the essay, results will be integrated in the discourse on a fundamental change or structural rupture within modernity. Finally, the results are examined regarding their significance for health research and practice. What can be considered as the central result is the fact that apparently obsolete certainty strategies, no less than apparently new ones, are effective means of creating biographical certainty and action potential today. Therefore, at a methodological level, the error of equating what is attributed to epochs with specific individual action patterns must be avoided. Rather, when interpreting and classifying results, it must be made explicit where one stands as a scientific observer and what normative implications are involved for the interpretation and classification of results.


biographical certaintymodernizationreflexive modernitylife coursebiographyrisk

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2004