Almost a year, now, I wrote in this news-paper an article on The High Risk Society. Among the various points for that occasion was that of conceiving risk as a usable framework for analyzing changes in contemporary society. The argument is that 20th century industrial society in its development and postmodernization generated the high risk society. Risk can be defined as a systematic, even knowledgeable way of dealing with danger, hazards and insecurities induced and introduced by the postmodernization reality. Thus, there are at least, two very important operational questions: what is the language and behavior of risk which is attaining prominence in home, work and social settings? What can we do to cope with intelligence and make some sense of its ubiquity?
From a work and even management stand point one has to ponder if risk in contemporary society and its organizational settings to its calculation according to the definition (management of insurance). This interesting work and professional challenge resides not in the conventional alteration of the ratio between types of risk (calculable and not calculable).
Rather, it is precisely the notion of calculability that legitimizes the actions of those claiming to be able to do it now and concurrently, that gives way to intractable new risk. The profound dilemma is that along with the growing capacity of technological options grows the incalculability of their consequences. Hence, people, leaders and institutions have to take chances. In the high risk society the unknown and unintended consequences come to be a dominant force in history and society.
With these arguments are several reconsiderations of the notion of insurance. For example, conventional technologies for assigning risk to some events and not to others, as a collective condition, made it possible for some pioneer societies to analyze themselves and their problems in risk and insurability terms. This gave way to principles of organization, functioning and regulation which became the norm in social institutions at the end of 19th century and early 20th century.
Today, we are calling for the use of prevention technologies (and anticipating potential health problems) and making the notion of risk more antonomous from that of danger. Again, we want to stress the argument that in contemporary social condition risk in its relationship to postmodernization, is at the center of transformation forces. Hence, we face a formidable paradox by which the calculability of risk gives way to risk management itself.
It was Barry Turner who wrote (software and contingency) that if we start by recognizing that instability lies at the heart of the world, then we may come to realize that the optimism and the assertion of certainty which enables life to create and spread order cannot completely overcome this instability. Even when our strategies are successful they are still dependent upon the contingencies of the environment. We cannot automatically more towards a reduction of doubt and danger. We can only renegotiate a tolerable balance between doubt and certainty, between danger and safety. After finishing this article, I am going to take some risk and ride my Harley-Davidson.
Copyright 2000 QBS, Inc.