Conceptualising the World Risk Society thesis of Ulrich Beck in the context of the discipline of Marketing

Dr Cornelius H. Bothma

Vol 20 | Issue 1 | pp. 127-147


The World Risk Society thesis put forward by Ulrich Beck has generated considerable debate around the topic of global risk, mainly in the social sciences, but to a limited extent in the marketing sciences. His thesis outlines his concern that society has reached a third epoch of development which he refers to as reflexive modernity in which society is inadvertently manufacturing or creating ‘uncertainties or risks that are so catastrophically severe that they may destroy humankind. Marketers would typically be tasked with marketing the creations of industry, including these same products that unwittingly could destroy our world or the society in it. This article posits that responsible marketers should strive to be aware of these risks, in as far as they can, and their respective roles in promoting such risks. The paradox is that we do not know what these risks are – they are unknown unknowns. The challenge society and the marketing community within society, has, therefore, is how to become aware of potentially globally catastrophic unknown risks. Beck puts forward his vision of a cosmopolitan society that is aware of and capable of dealing with such ubiquitous global risks. Other authors have also touched on ways of coping with the World Risk Society in the context of their respective fields. This article reports on a discussion of the World Risk Society thesis and related literature and urges that attention to be given to this challenge, particularly by the marketing community, otherwise the inaction on the part of society to deal with the World Risk Society may be the very risk that destroys society.

Keywords: World Risk Society, Ulrich Beck, global catastrophe, global risk, unknown risk, marketing and risk

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