This article appeared
at The New York Times
By ALISON SMALEJAN. 4, 2015
BERLIN — Ulrich Beck, a sociologist who became one of Germany’s most prominent public intellectuals by exploring the ways technology has created a new, riskier society, died on Thursday. He was 70.
The cause was a heart attack, family members told the German news media.
Mr. Beck shot to national and international fame in 1986 after the publication of his book “Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity,” which argued that one of man’s proudest achievements, technology, had also created new risks in spheres ranging from ecology to finance.
Technology, he said, created a new form of modernity that inherently involved more risk, or uncertainty, than the more rational Industrial Age. The book coincided with the world’s worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, lending it a currency that eventually saw the work translated into 35 languages. Still, Mr. Beck maintained a generally upbeat view as he tackled other contemporary topics. “What is Globalization?” in 1997 and “Cosmopolitan Vision” in 2004 laid out what he viewed as the increasingly global nature of society, which he saw breeding a cosmopolitanism that could replace old thinking around national sovereignty.
An enthusiastic proponent of a more united Europe, he took the expansion of the European Union in 2004, when eight former Soviet bloc nations were admitted, as a sign that nationalism was outdated.
His last book, “German Europe,” published in 2013, accused the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, of being too hesitant in the euro crisis while also insisting that German help for profligate European neighbors should come on German terms.
“Her frequent delays in taking action lead him to dub her ‘Merkiavelli,’ but he allows that, although narrow-minded, she is well-intentioned,” The Times (of London) Higher Education supplement wrote in a review.
Mr. Beck’s pro-European views drew him to like-minded activists and intellectuals across the continent. “For Ulrich Beck, the construction of Europe was important as a stage toward the kind of tempered globalization he advocated,” the French daily Le Monde wrote in a weekend obituary.
Mr. Beck was born on May 15, 1944, in what was then Stolp, in Pomerania, and is today the Polish city of Slupsk. His family fled west with the end of World War II, and he grew up in Hanover. After working at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich in the 1970s, he was a professor in Münster and Bamberg before returning to Munich in 1992.
Abroad, he taught in Cardiff, the London School of Economics and in Paris. Last July, Mr. Beck was awarded one of the first lifetime achievement awards given by the International Sociological Association for most distinguished contributions to futures research.
Mr. Beck is survived by his wife, Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim, also a sociologist. The couple, who had no children, wrote two books well received in Germany about modern love and life: “The Normal Chaos of Love,” published in 1990, and, in 2011, “Distant Love.”