Why ‘class’ is too soft a category to capture the explosiveness of social inequality at the beginning of the twenty-first century


(Corresponding author email: u.beck@lmu.de)


We can distinguish four positions on the continuing, or maybe even increasing, relevance of the category of class at the beginning of the twenty-first century depending on the extent to which they accord central importance to (1) the reproduction or (2) the transformation of social classes with regard to (3) the distribution of goods without bads or (4) the distribution of goods and bads. One could say that Dean Curran introduces the concept of ‘risk-class’ to radicalize the class distribution of risk and charts who will able to occupy areas less exposed to risk and who will have little choice but to occupy areas that are exposed to the brunt of the fact of the risk society. As he mentioned it is important to note that this social structuring of the distribution of bads will be affected not only by class, but also by other forms of social structuration of disadvantage, such as gender and race. In order to demonstrate that the distribution of bads is currently exacerbating class differences in life chances, however, Curran concentrates exclusively on phenomena of individual risks. In the process, he overlooks the problem of systemic risks in relation of the state, science, new corporate roles, management the mass media, law, mobile capital and social movements; at the same time, his conceptual frame of reference does not really thematize the interdependence between individual and systemic risks. Those who reduce the problematic of risk to that of the life chances of individuals are unable to grasp the conflicting social and political logics of risk and class conflicts. Or, to put it pointedly: ‘class’ is too soft a category to capture the explosiveness of social inequality in world risk society.