The ‘Risk Society’ Reconsidered: Recreancy, the Division of Labor, and Risks to the Social Fabric

  • William R. Freudenburg


Due in part to the important work of Ulrich Beck and Anthony Giddens, a good deal of attention has been devoted to the concept of the ‘risk society.’ To date, however, most of this interest has focused on recent and dramatic forms of risk — such as the potential for nuclear or other forms of annihilation — which tend not to be socially divisive at the subnational level. Today, despite the breaking-up of the former Soviet block, these risks cannot be ruled out. Still, perhaps the relaxation of former Cold War animosities may make it easier for sociologists to focus on different types of risks, namely those that, while less dramatic, may be more insidious, more invidious, and ultimately more influential in the lives of most ordinary people. These risks may also be more corrosive for industrial societies as a whole. This chapter argues that the more salient risks for modern (and postmodern) societies are those that derive from increasing specialization and division of labor. These interlinked processes contribute to growing susceptibility to the risks and rewards of interdependence and give rise to a context in which the ability of people to exert meaningful social control over the ‘responsible’ specialists has declined substantially.


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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2000

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  • William R. Freudenburg

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