Sample Undergraduate Sociology Exam Notes

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Exam Questions

1. How can we understand contemporary societies in terms of their relationship with the Natural Environment?

The societies of the world are formed by different people living in groups and communities. Other societies throughout the world’s history are primarily based on different environmental conditions varying in different periods. The different environmental conditions and risks led societies to take different measures to face the environmental changes and threats. This measure has shaped different characteristics of the society in the past (Beck, 1992), which is also the case in modern societies where the characteristics of different societies are shaped according to the external risk the societies of today face.

2. How do ‘late modern’ societies differ in this respect (if at all) from modern societies? To clarify/define what’s meant by Modern & Late Modern societies?

What about the aspect of (i) manmade risks; (ii) manageable vs. unmanageable risks – would these be relevant to the question/answer?

The primary difference between late modern society (second modernity) and modern societies is the nature of both societies’ risks. According to Beck (1992), the pre-industrial societies’ trouble was more environmentally and naturally caused, including disasters and incidents. Whereas the risks involved in Industrial societies pertain to manufacturing risks such as accidents in factories that could lead to damages in the business’s properties and the risk of workers losing their lives while working in the factories, the risk of natural disaster prevailed in the industrial society. Late Morden society, also called the Risk society, is exposed to risks that are manmade; these risks include economic, political, and health risks (Beck, 1992). Although the advancement of technology and innovation has led the risk societies to manage certain risks, the advancements of the risk society have led to manmade risks that have gone beyond the control of the risk society.

3. What are the defining features of society-environment relations in late modern societies?

What about the global vs. local nature of the risks – would this be relevant to the question/answer?

Today’s late modern societies have no structured processes for preparing themselves for the worst-case scenarios that might occur. Furthermore, the constitutions were made to keep the social and political order intact. It does not assure that societies’ constitutions will be intact during a worst-case scenario faced by the late modern societies. This could result in societies ending up in chaos when facing the worst scenario possible (Beck, 1992). The worst-case scenarios may include natural disasters and other mega hazards such as Nuclear, Biotech, Chemical hazards. According to Beck (2013), the late modern societies have taken an approach of denying dangers, where the risks are overlooked, and mega hazards are widely created without considering its consequences or social damages.

The primary features of the society-environment relations of the late modern societies include the mega hazards that society has created in the environment, which affects the local environment and the global environment of the world. The constant pollution and toxins created by factories contaminate the air and water, leading to the extinction of many species of animals, although this also affects humans. However, the effect is gradual; therefore, no attention is given to the mega hazards. Another global risk that has arisen in late modern societies is the advancement in weapons technology, which has led countries to create nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons have increased the risk within countries, and it has become uncontrollable. The use of nuclear weapons could result in creating an apocalyptic scenario in the world.

4. What changes are taking place, what are the implications, and how can we understand what is at stake?

There have been several changes that have been occurring in late modern societies. The new technological and industrial advances taking place in late modern societies have led to new risks. The social structures that were prevalent in the first modern societies are irrelevant in the late modern societies. The social classes based on wealth and power have developed different risk patterns (Beck, 1992), where risks faced by one social class in the society are different from the risks faced by other social classes of the society. It can be stated that difference in risk has created inequality among the social classes where people belonging to higher social classes can buy their way to avoid risks.

According to the researcher, the physiological needs, which can also be considered the basic need of humans such as food, clothing, and shelter, are not the priority of humans now because the safety needs have replaced them. Therefore humans are now focusing more on their wealth and existence security. Furthermore, due to globalization, geographic risks are also emerging as major risks for different world countries. Although the risks have been increasing in the late modern societies, beck suggests that these societies have been more egalitarian than previous societies of the world.

5. Explain and evaluate Ulrich Beck’s ‘Risk Society’ thesis to understand society’s nature relations?

The term Risk Society in the thesis of Ulrich Beck refers to the late modern societies that started from the year 1960s until the Modern day. Beck evaluated and explained the risks faced by the later modernity societies in his thesis, which explains how modern society faces the risk faced by the world since the start and how the risk society has added up more risk creations of mankind themselves. Society’s existing risks include natural disasters, accidents, and diseases (Beck, 1992). Humans’ risk includes Industrial pollution, chemical pollution, nuclear power risks, and financial risks. Furthermore, Beck argued that the risks that have emerged in the risk society also include risks made out of perception, even though there may be no risk of the environment. Still, it has been artificially created in the minds of individuals by companies and organizations. Beck’s thesis explains the difference between the natural environmental risks and manmade environmental risks faced by the late modernity societies.

6. What is the ‘calculus of risk’ and its role in industrial society?

The high modernity societies developed a calculus of risk to deal with the consequences and dangers of industrialism. Calculus of Risk can be defined as industrial society’s methods and techniques to analyze the risk and further reduce it. Calculus of risks also uses statistical probabilities to analyze risks and takes further provides relevant activities that can be taken to avoid them.

Calculus of risks has helped industrial societies identify new risks that could affect the societies. It has helped industrial societies analyze risk in their constitutions and businesses. This has led society to focus on precautions for accidents and calculated financial risks such as insurance premiums. Therefore, the Calculus of risk has led the risk society to develop countermeasures and techniques that enable them to secure themselves from the high uncertainty of future outcomes and risks (Beck, 1992).

7. What is the significance of insurance in Beck’s thesis?

According to Beck (2008), insurance is one of the calculi of risk in risk societies. Insurance companies calculate the risk of financial losses and accidental losses in a business or any loss that may arise for individuals. These risks include social and industrial risks, resulting in losses caused by different market conditions of the business, accidents, and natural disasters. Insurance, however, does not calculate the manmade mega hazards, which can prove to have a greater impact on society. Furthermore, beck considered insurance to be a cliché social invention, which obliges an individual to pay a fee for reliving the risk that can affect the individual. However, beck suggested that the advancement in the statistical techniques and innovations in predictions has covered all aspects of risks to which an individual is exposed. Therefore, insurance is an essential tool for individuals to migrate the risks around them.

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8. According to Beck, what are the implications of ‘mega-hazards.’

According to Beck (2008), mega hazards are manmade risks resulting from modern sciences and technological advancements. These risks are now considered uncontrollable by humans. The term mega describes the scope of these hazards, which are global in size, and can potentially pose risks to human existence. According to Beck, mega hazards include climate change, nuclear, and industrial chemical hazards (Dickens, 2004). These hazards can either have abrupt effects or be slow and gradual processes. Both of these effects can result in the world facing an apocalyptic environment.

The mega hazards like biotechnological hazards and industrial or chemical hazards can affect people slowly, and gradually the constant pollution can harm the human body. The effect can be carried out on the newborn; the additives and unnatural elements in the nutrition can have the same effect as industrial hazards. The rapid and abrupt impact can result from a nuclear bomb that has a devastating effect (Birkmann et al., 2010). Since many countries today have nuclear power, war can rapidly change the world into an apocalyptic world.

9. According to Beck, what is the growing contradiction in contemporary society’s orientation to Security?

The contradictions of the contemporary society’s orientation to Security include an argument that claims that contemporary societies are often in denial from many risks. Therefore the management of risks in societies is ineffective. This has created a loss in trust, reliability, and faith in modern political systems, legal institutions, and media messages (Dickens, 2004). The effects of the denial of risks include a lack of importance given to science and rationality and increased suspicion among societies” people (Amin, 2014). The suspicion has also increased in terms of businesses suspecting other businesses for lies and cover-ups. These suspicions have increased the levels of fear and anxiety in the people living in societies.

10. How does the ‘risk society’ deal with the risks it produces?

The manmade risks have been started in the early stages of modern societies. The Industrial risks and institutional risks created by mankind are calculable. Industrial societies and the risk society have created several complexes and systematic approaches to manage these risks. According to Beck (2013), this approach is called the calculus of risk. Statistical probabilities, risk regulations, and insurance are examples of risk calculus (Beck, 1992). Beck also argued that the risks which uncontrollable by the people are intended to normalize by the risk society; another way of managing these risks is to just simply ignore them.

11. Why does Beck argue that the risk society is undemocratic?

Beck argued thattoday’ss experts of risk analysis are the ones who create it in the first place. The industries, businesses, and institutions have detailed processes for the management of risk. Therefore their opinions and implications of risk are given a higher value. However, it is important to note that due to the industries, businesses and institutions are not kept under the scrutiny of a democratic judgment, the search and desire for higher profits by the business results in individuals being exposed to increasing risks.

Furthermore, Beck (2013) argued that risks might not be equal for everyone living in a society. A person may perceive risks from the environment which are different from the risks revived by another person. Due to the uneven economic conditions of individuals, individuals belonging to high social class, having power and money can influence their way out of risks that a normal person may not do so. This is why Ulrich beck considered the risk society to be undemocratic.

12. What is the fundamental difference between industrial society and the”risk societ”?

The primary difference between the industrial society and the risk society is the level nature of risks that both the societies faced. Industrial societies faced more natural risks and the risks that naturally occurred other than the natural risks. The industrial society also faced a risk of accidents that could occur in factories and industries, causing damage to human lives and properties. Furthermore, the perceived risk was limited to natural disasters, accidents, and natural incidents (Dickens, 2004). Risk societies face a wide variety of risks which include naturally occurring risks like natural disasters and accidents. Due to the advancement in technology, new risks have emerged in the risk society; these societies also face the risks humans themselves create.

13. Do politics and the media normalize risks and threats, or do they exaggerate (or even invent) them?

As the risk society is mainly distinguished because society has created several risks themselves. However, becks argued that media and politicians are responsible for reducing the risk in a society (Beck, 1992). However, according to beck, the current media and politics often use risk to create and exaggerate risks for their interests. The media is blamed for exaggerating the risks, primarily due to showcasing engaging content to the viewers. In contrast, politicians often invent new risks and use them to cover or justify their activities and actions.

14. Can it be argued that insecurity, anxiety, and the language of risk are political tools? Or are some threats invented or exaggerated to divert us from the”rea” threats?

The phenomenon of insecurity, anxiety, and risk language is a natural outcome of the risks surrounding societies today; however, it can be said that these are also used to infuse fear or mistrust to influence people to behave in a desired manner. The behavior that is intended to be derived from using the mentioned tools can vary for different purposes in politics. It may lead people to develop affiliations with political candidates or result in people having a negative outlook towards a candidate, apart from politics (Beck, U., 1992).