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Second modernity

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Title: Second modernity  
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Subject: Reflexive modernization, Modernity, Late modernity, Postmodern theory, Historiography
Collection: Historiography, Modernity, Postmodern Theory
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Second modernity

Second modernity is a phrase coined by the German sociologist Ulrich Beck, and is his word for the period after modernity.

Where modernity broke down agricultural society in favour of industrial society, second modernity transforms industrial society into a new and more reflexive network society or information society (He 2012, 111 and 215).


  • Risk society 1
  • Knowledge society 2
  • Resistance 3
  • See also 4
  • Sources 5
  • Further reading 6
  • External links 7

Risk society

Second modernity is marked by a new awareness of the risks — risks to all forms of life, plant, animal and human — created by the very successes of modernity in tackling the problem of human scarcity (Carrier and Nordmann 2011, 449). Systems that previously seemed to offer protection from risks both natural and social are increasingly recognised as producing new man-made risks on a global scale as a byproduct of their functioning (He 2012, 147). Such systems become part of the problem, not the solution. Modernisation and information advances themselves create new social dangers, such as cybercrime (He 2012, 69), while scientific advances open up new areas, like cloning or genetic modification, where decisions are necessarily made without adequate capacity to assess longterm consequences (Allan, Adam, and Carter 1999, xii–ii).

Recognising the fresh dilemmas created by this reflexive modernization, Beck has suggested a new "cosmopolitan Realpolitik" to overcome the difficulties of a world in which national interests can no longer be promoted effectively at the national level alone (Beck 2006, 173).

Knowledge society

Second modernity has also been linked to the so-called knowledge society, marked by a pluralisation of different types of knowledge (Carrier n.d., 439 and 448). It is characterised in particular by knowledge-dependent risks — the uncertainties manufactured by the information world itself (Harding 2008, 55–58).


Various forms of resistance to second modernity have emerged, among them for example Euroscepticism (Marchetti and Vidović 2010, 171).

Beck himself sees al-Qaeda as a by-product of, as well as resistance to, second modernity, not only in its use of information technology tools, but also in its syncretist ideology (Beck 2006, 113).

See also


  • Allan, Stuart, Barbara Adam, and Cynthia Carter (eds.). 1999. Environmental Risks and the Media. London and New York: Routledge. ISBN 9780415214469 (cloth); ISBN 9780415214476 (pbk); ISBN 9780203164990 (e-book).
  • Beck, Ulrich. 2006. The Cosmopolitan Vision, translated by Ciaran Cronin. Cambridge, UK; Malden, MA: Polity Press. ISBN 0-7456-3398-6 (cloth); ISBN 0-7456-3399-4 (pbk).
  • Carrier. n.d.
  • Carrier, Martin, and Alfred Nordmann. 2011. Science in the Context of Application. Dordrecht, London, and New York: Springer. ISBN 9789048190508.
  • Harding, Sandra G. 2008. Sciences from Below: Feminisms, Postcolonialities, and Modernities. Next Wave. Durham: Duke University Press. ISBN 9780822342595 (cloth); ISBN 9780822342823 (pbk).
  • He, Chuanqi. 2012. Modernization Science: The Principles and Methods of National Advancement. Berlin and New York: Springer Verlag. ISBN 9783642254581 (cloth); ISBN 9783642254598 (ebook).
  • Marchetti, Raffaele, and Davorka Vidović (eds.). 2010. European Union and Global Democracy. Zagreb: CPI [Centar za Politološka Istraživanja]/PSRC [Political Science Research Center]. ISBN 9789537022211.

Further reading

  • Carrier, Martin (ed.). 2004. Knowledge and the World: Challenges beyond the Science Wars. The Frontiers Collection. Berlin and New York: Springer-Verlag, ; ISBN 9783540210092.
  • Carrier, Martin. 2006. Wissenschaftstheorie zur Einführung. Zur Einführung 317. Hamburg: Junius. ISBN 9783885066170 (pbk).
  • Hadjileontiadis, Leontios J. 2010. "Aesthetic Shifts from the Avant-garde towards the 'Second Modernity': The Swaddling of a New Compositional Thinking. In Beyond the Centres: Musical Avant Gardes since 1950". In In Memoriam Yannis Andreou Papaioannou (1910–1989), edited by Kōstas Tsougkras (Κώστας Τσούγκρας), Danaī Maria Stefanou (Δανάη Μαρία Στεφάνου), and Kōstas Chardas (Κώστας Χάρδας). Greece: s.n.
  • Mahnkopf, Claus-Steffen, Frank Cox, and Wolfram Schurig (eds.). 2008. Facets of the Second Modernity. New Music and Aesthetics in the 21st Century 6. Hofheim: Wolke Verlag. ISBN 9783936000177.
  • Sǿrensen, Mads Peter, and Allan Christiensen. 2012. Ulrich Beck: An Introduction to the Theory of Second Modernity and the Risk Society. New York: Routledge. ISBN 9780415693691 (hardback); ISBN 9780203107928 (ebook).

External links

  • Ulrich Bech, 'World Risk Society'
  • U. Beck, 'Varieties of Second Modernity'
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