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Second-modern transformation in East Asia: An active dialogue with Ulrich Beck1

La seconde modernité en Asie orientale. Dialogue actif avec Ulrich Beck
Han Sang-Jin
p. 45-64


Cet article vise à entamer un dialogue ouvert avec Ulrich Beck sur la question de la seconde modernité. À un dialogue « passif » et « faible », je préfère un dialogue « actif », et donc potentiellement « fort ». Je considère que l’approche est active si l’on prend véritablement en compte les caractéristiques généalogiques de la culture et de l’histoire asiatiques. Cette approche, qui se veut critique des présupposés hégémoniques des théories sociales occidentales, est une réponse à l’appel au cosmopolitisme lancé par Beck mais elle souhaite aussi se démarquer des présupposés eurocentriques qui demeurent présents dans la théorie de Beck. Cette approche ouvre un dialogue avec l’Occident tout en restant fidèle à l’identité asiatique et en accordant toute leur importance à l’existence de voies de développement spécifiques et à leurs conséquences. Afin de savoir si une multiplicité de voies de développement, en dépit de leurs différences, peut donner naissance à des potentialités susceptibles d’orienter le changement historique, j’examine ici cinq questions théoriques : la dimension normative de la seconde modernité ; la réflexion historique ; la tradition ; le changement cosmopolitique ; et l’individualisation.

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  • 1 This paper is a revision of the original paper presented at a special session of the annual confer (...)

1The general perception of East Asia varies depending on “who” focuses on “what.” While one may see East Asia’s rising powers—with China, Japan and South Korea being good examples of such—as capable of competing with the West, another may see East Asia as a region in which uncertainty prevails due to the conflicting national interests of state powers, particularly on the issue of history and transitional justice. Yet another may see East Asia as part of a new axis of civilization, in which the gravity of world history is said to be moving away from the West. What is at stake is not simply a Weberian question of whether Confucianism, as a functional equivalent of Protestantism, has contributed to capitalist economic development or not; the broader focus is on the cultural awakening of East Asia in terms of identity and value orientations. East Asia is regarded, above all, as possessing profound cultural traditions that are sources for new inspiration and enlightenment for humanity as a whole. It is from this perspective that this paper explores the future of East Asia in terms of a second-modern transformation.

Beck’s argument

2In his 2010 lecture in Nagoya, Japan, Ulrich Beck criticized the long-standing Euro-centric assumptions underlying modern social theories—from classical to contemporary versions—while advocating the need for a cosmopolitan turn in the present. Addressed to a Japanese intellectual audience, his message was well calculated, clear-cut, and assertive, but it was met with a rather cool response. The atmosphere was ambivalent at best, most likely because his speech was premised on the necessity of cosmopolitan social science (Beck, 2010: 4). This tendency is not unique in Japan; it can also be found in China, where politics and public opinion seem to have been increasingly shaped by nationalistic drives in the status quo.

3Nevertheless, apart from this, his speech deserves careful attention. I am particularly interested in his recognition of East Asia’s capability to deconstruct the Euro-centric conception of modernity and reconstruct genuine pluralities in historical trajectories from modernity to second-modern transformation. Unlike most modernization theories, his speech did not prioritize Western developments as a model applicable to other countries. On the contrary, he explored the possible role of East Asia in “correct[ing] and redefin[ing] the self-understanding of European modernity” by looking at “Europe from a non-European perspective; that is, with Asian eyes” (Beck, 2010: 16). Cosmopolitan nuances of self-reflection could not have been better formulated.

4This paper is an attempt to explore an open-ended dialogue along the lines suggested by Beck. The main question that we raise here is how to define and understand the relationship between East Asia and the West in their trajectories towards second-modern transformation. Though deeply interconnected, these two pathways also have compelling differences; hence, the suggested dialogue is a challenge of profound significance with far-reaching consequences. In this paper, therefore, I will explore ideas that may be useful for an “active,” and thus perhaps “strong,” dialogue, which is more penetrating than a “passive” and “weak” dialogue.

Towards an active dialogue

  • 2 This does not imply any fault on the part of Beck. It is natural and perhaps unavoidable for him t (...)

5I define an approach to be “passive” if it takes the Western discourse as a self-evident reference for analysis and attempts to examine whether or not—and, if so, how—the constitutive elements defined by this theory can also be found in East Asia in a way that is supportive of the Western theory, though not exactly in the same way as in the West. This approach is passive because it eventually ends up looking at East Asia from the West-bound perspective. The possible contribution to historical varieties within the Western conceptual framework hardly challenges very Euro-centric assumptions, and Beck’s discourse is not an exception. His theory of second modernity, while radically open-minded and self-critical, still remains heavily predicated upon the Western experience simply because there has not been much research done on this topic in other areas.2

6We are concerned about the status of East Asia in its relation with the world in general and the West in particular. It is relatively easy to clarify what to reject in this regard, such as a binary opposition approach separating East Asia from the West almost completely, as can be found in the so-called “Asian value” debate led by the former Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew (1993). A simple relativist standpoint should be rejected methodologically, and likewise, a simple convergence assumption expressed by modernization theory is hardly sufficient. Nevertheless, when we are dealing with historical transformation towards second modernity, as in this paper, we start from the observation that among many regions and countries in the world, East Asia and the West have been moving ahead of others in this mega-trend. What, then, is the exact relation between these two regions?

  • 3 Kim Dae-jung’s critique of Lee Kuan Yew in Foreign Affairs (Kim, 1997) can be best read from this (...)

7I define an approach to be “active” if one takes full consideration of the genealogical traits of Asian culture and history. My position is that this active approach is required for the dialogue aspired to by Beck. Critical of the hegemonic assumptions of Western social theories, this approach is intended to respond to Beck’s cosmopolitan appeal for an open dialogue while breaking away from the Euro-centric assumptions still kept alive in his theory. This approach attempts to be more internal, rather than external, by seeing East Asia from within, rather than from a conceptual scheme already spelled out by a Western theory. This approach is active in that it opens up a dialogue with the West, while being faithful to an Asian identity and paying close attention to the specific developmental pathways and their consequences. In this way, we may be able to explore whether multiple pathways of development, despite their fundamental differences, give rise to certain potentials shaping the basic direction of historical change.3 This is generally what is meant by “unconstrained overlapping consensus” (Rawls, Habermas, Taylor). If we take this approach, as I will try in this paper, it is of methodological necessity to situate second-modern transformation within the East Asian context of modernization and articulate relevant issues and problems from the viewpoint of a constructive dialogue with the West.

The normative question for second modernity

8The first task set before us is to clarify the normative foundation of a theory of second-modern transformation in East Asia. Beck (2008) made normative intent visible when he suggested his theory of global risk and reflexive modernization as continuations of the tradition of critical theory. Critical theory represents a distinctive paradigm of theory construction because it involves not only social analysis as substantive accounts of social structure and change of the society under investigation, but also a critique which presupposes a normative orientation towards an alternative future. Critical theory differs from other paradigms of social science by its explicit efforts to link theory and practice via the critique and the self-reflection it opens. Critical theory is more than descriptive and analytic, since it attempts to change society by addressing the contradictions underlying the society in question and by opening up the cognitive and practical space in which such knowledge can be mediated to emancipatory self-transformation.

9In the case of Beck, he understood his theory of second modernity as a critique of the incapability of modern (nation-state centered) institutions to manage global risks and as a normative project towards an alternative (cosmopolitan) institutional arrangement. By and large, however, this normative dimension of his theory construction remains implicit rather than explicit throughout his writings, but I think it must be put forward clearly since this dimension is where historical reflection should start from. This is important not only for Beck, but also for our own inquiry into an East Asian pathway to second-modern transformation.

10The explanatory scheme he has suggested is the dialectic between basic principles and basic institutions of modernity. This reminds us of Marx’s dialectics between productive force and the relation of production. Beck has argued that the increasing radicalization of the basic principles of modernity has brought out the global market economy, which has in turn accelerated production of such global risks as financial crisis and socio-economic polarization. This is only one example. I think we can also consider other consequences of radicalizing modernity, such as a global regime of human rights, scientific developments creating weapons of mass destruction, an industrial revolution linked to climate change, problems resulting from radiation leakage, and information technology paving the road to global civil society, among others. What is important for Beck is that global risks are the unintended consequences of the success, not the failure, of modernity, and that typical modern institutions such as nation-states, when confronting these new types of global risks, turn out to be incapable of managing those risks as effectively as they did in the past. Thus, Beck argues that “thanks to the global victory of the principles of modernity (such as the market economy) and the ‘side effects’ of industrial modernity (climate change, global financial crisis), the basic social institutions of the First Modernity have become ineffective or dysfunctional for both society and individuals” (Beck and Grande, 2010: 415).

11Having said so, it is an open question whether we can take Beck’s conceptual framework as given and view East Asia from or within this framework. I am hesitant to do so, not because this framework is ill-grounded and problematic, but mainly because it alone will not do justice to the specific pathways of compressed modernity in East Asia. Together with this framework sensitizing attention to global trends, we need to develop additional frameworks that are better fitted to the East Asian experience of modernization. To me, the dialectic between the principles and institutions of modernity, and the idea of radicalizing modernity, individualization, and cosmopolitization all seem to express a kind of Western ontogenesis of modernity. For an active dialogue, careful attention should be paid to the specific experience of state-centered authoritarian modernization in East Asia.

  • 4 “Compressed modernity” means that transformation unfolds so fast that the traditional, modern, and (...)

12Among many suggested concepts to date, the concept of “compressed modernity” (Chang, 2010) or “rush-to modernization” (Han, 1997, 1998) may offer a reasonably accurate understanding of the East Asian experience of modernization.4 With this concept, we can investigate, for instance, who led this transformation, and why and how it occurred, together with its achievements and deficiencies. Seen against the backdrop of this compressed modernity, the concept of second modernity may be particularly appealing to East Asia, where the success in catch-up modernization has brought about complex risks as unintended consequences of rush-to modernization.

13An interesting case in point is his advocacy of a cosmopolitan social theory, which has both the empirical (historical) and normative dimensions. Empirically, Beck supports his theory by fully grasping the undisputable realities of increasing transnational interconnections at multiple levels. At the same time, his theory of second modernity is distinctive because it involves a normative dimension. In other words, his theory can be seen as providing a critique of the structural deficiencies built into capitalist modernization, while simultaneously sensitizing attention to the overall direction of further transformation underway. To be more precise, when he thinks about normative issues, he does not simply mean the actor’s deliberation and conscious decision. Thus he often talks about “cosmopolitization without cosmopolitanism” as he does about “individualization without individualism.” He seems to intentionally downplay normative reasoning upholding a kind of realist perspective when he talks about cosmopolitization without cosmopolitanism as “a reflexive condition” for second modernity. He argues that “this reflexivity must not be confused with normativity” (Beck and Grande, 2010: 419).

14Against this backdrop, I argue that we should ask straightforwardly: why, today, do we need a cosmopolitan turn in social theory in general, and new risk governance in particular? It is because the institutions of modernity “do not constitute a sufficient basis for managing or controlling the global risks and crisis created by the global victory of industrial capitalism.” The cosmopolitan imperative that Beck stresses arises mainly “because of global risks: nuclear risks, ecological risks, technological risks, economic risks created by insufficiently regulated financial markets” (Beck and Grande, 2010: 418). In short, we strive for such qualitative change because it is an unavoidable imperative to manage global risks that threaten human existence today. The cosmopolitan framework of risk management, as an alternative, must be qualitatively better than the previous (nation-state centered) one in terms of its capacity to effectively deal with global risks.

15This makes it clear that a normative commitment is, in fact, underlying Beck’s theory of second modernity and cosmopolitan change. However, he doesn’t make it explicit. In the case of the East Asian pathway of modernization, we have good reason to argue that the normative foundation of second modernity should be made clearly visible.

Historical reflection

16What concerns me here is the extent of transitional justice as a condition for second modernity. How we come to terms with past history is pivotal for clarifying and establishing the political framework, not only of a democratic regime but also of a regional community such as the European Union. One can say that Europe today, despite the tendencies of serious financial crisis (Offe, 2013), is ahead of other regions in the move towards cosmopolitan development and hence, second-modern transformation, by achieving the EU as an instance of cosmopolitan cooperation. This has been made possible by many factors, one of which was the considerable success in transitional justice. East Asia differs from Europe in this respect. The pathway that Japan took after the Second World War can be drastically contrasted with that of Germany, even though the two countries were both initially forced to go through military tribunal courts. To put it in a straightforward manner, Germany broke away from its wrongful past with sincere apology and compensation (reparation) and other activities, whereas Japan almost failed in transitional justice. Consequently, Germany has gained trust and partnership from neighboring countries, while Japan has created tensions and conflicts with nearby nations. Despite flourishing interactions in areas such as commerce, tourism, cultures, education, experts, and so on, the lack of transitional justice has prevented East Asia from forming a genuine regional community. This leads us to the importance of historical reflection over state-centered authoritarian modernization in East Asia.

  • 5 The statements below are by and large taken from Han and Shim (2010).

17Historical reflection in East Asia may begin by investigating the specific power configuration called a bureaucratic-authoritarian (hereafter BA) state.5 The origin of the BA state may be traced back to the late nineteenth century when, following the Meiji restoration (1862), Japan developed a strong state bureaucracy to launch a fast catch-up modernization. Similarly, the BA state emerged in South Korea via the military coup d’État of 1961 and was consolidated by the Yushin reform (1972). The similarities between these two have drawn considerable attention (Cumings, 1989). The ruling system of the one party-state in China, especially after its opening and reform (1979), can also be seen as a typical case of a BA regime with strong commitment to economic growth and sociopolitical stability.

18When Japan followed its modernization track, leading intellectuals repeatedly asserted that Japan would protect Asian nations from the increasing threat of Western colonialism. Despite this, Japan fell into the trap of colonialism as it became stronger and invaded most of the Asian countries. This led to catastrophic consequences and massive destruction. In the case of the West, where first modernity also resulted in colonial power, wars, and massive destruction, transitional justice has given rise to advancing democratic politics and human rights institutions. However, the situation in East Asia differs significantly. Transitional justice, or the question of how to come to terms with the past, still remains unresolved (Han, 2012). Japan is an obvious case, but the issue is actually broader and deeper. Systematic violation of human rights, ideological hostility, and excessive preoccupation with nationalism are still present in East Asia. Therefore, the first question that we need to investigate regarding second-modern transformation is whether or not the prototypical and self-destructive tendency of modernity, deeply anchored in history through the systemic use of violence, instrumental pursuit of wealth and power, and aggressive nationalist drives, can be kept under control and, if so, how, and where the safeguards should come from.

19This means that the main task of historical reflection for second modernity in East Asia is to examine both the success and deficiencies of compressed modernity and to ask, as a normative question, how to overcome the legacies of the state-centered authoritarian (top-down) pattern of rush-to modernization and the complex risks it has brought about. I argue that we should take such a path-dependent, contextually specific approach to second-modern transformation before we accept Beck’s idea of radicalizing modernity, individualization, and cosmopolitization. Needless to say, this normative question is not simply a matter of subjective value decision. Rather, it requires a set of historical, sociological, and cultural conditions. Yet, the idea of second modernity can obtain its distinctive identity when this normative basis is made clear.

20In particular, dual aspects of compressed modernity deserve our careful attention. On one hand, the BA model has produced positive outcomes such as economic growth, industrial systems, technological development, urbanization, and educated work forces. Therefore, it makes sense to call this state a “developmental state.” On the other hand, the rush-to mode of development by the leadership of the BA state has produced numerous dangers and risks that threaten the safety of citizens’ lives and socially and ecologically sustainable development. The preoccupation with rapid modernization has destroyed the wisdom of balance. Far more emphasis has been placed on speed rather than procedure, size rather than substance, quantity rather than quality, and so on. Thus, everyone has been driven to get more, to invest more, and to get things done faster than planned without properly addressing the issue of risks and their management.

21For these reasons, second modernity and reflexive modernization in East Asia would make better sense if they began as self-critiques of the deficiencies built into East Asian compressed modernity. Compressed modernity and rush-to development has produced both “bright” and “dark” outcomes that remain inseparably bound.

The question of tradition

22Historical reflection can be extended to and further strengthened by investigating the relationship between second modernity and tradition. Since normative orientation is not a subjective matter of value-decision but instead calls for cultural support and justification, the question arises: how can normative orientation find its objective validity? This question leads us to read Beck from our own creative standpoint. Beck’s critique of methodological nationalism and his defense of cosmopolitan sociology can be reinterpreted as follows: 1) The global world has been deeply transformed in the direction of immensely amplifying transnational interconnections; 2) As a consequence, everyday life tends to be penetrated more and more by the impacts of transnational interactions on multiple levels; 3) Risks and dangers which were rather delimited in space and time in the past have become globalized, threatening the very survival of humanity as a whole; 4) Nevertheless, social-scientific understanding in general and the institutional framework of risk management in particular is still narrowly preoccupied by a nation state-centered approach by which alone an efficient regulation of global risks is not possible; 5) Therefore, it is imperative for human survival to move on from old-fashioned methodological nationalism to a cosmopolitan alternative. We may then ask: where does such cosmopolitan energy come from? Here Beck assumes, at least implicitly, a selective affinity between second modernity and cosmopolitan tradition in Europe. Beck has never paid serious attention to tradition as such, but it is clear that he wants to revitalize or reinvent the Western cosmopolitan tradition as a normative condition for second-modern transformation.

23This reading is revealing in many respects. First and foremost, Beck’s theory of second modernity is, in fact, predicated upon a selective affinity between the imperative to regulate increasing global risks as consequences of radicalizing modernity and reinventing cosmopolitan tradition. Beck’s theory of second modernity cannot work well if it is not supported by a normative tradition of cosmopolitanism, because in this case, mobilizing energy will be lacking.

24Second, this almost hidden theme in Beck’s theory may offer a broader and perhaps more fruitful conceptual framework of second modernity than what he suggests—namely, the relationship between modernity and tradition (Giddens, 1995). One significant example is individualization, which may become more vibrant when well-supported by a normative tradition of individualism. This tradition is obviously far stronger in the West than in East Asia. One can ask, therefore, whether the idea of individualization, as conceptualized by Beck, heavily reflects the Western tradition or not. Can we then take this concept of individualization as given and apply it in our inquiry into the East Asian pathway of second-modern transformation? It may be better to explore an alternative framework that fits the relationship between modernity and tradition in East Asia.

25Third, second modernity presupposes the rapid accumulation and expansion of global (local) risks and dangers jeopardizing human security and the increasing necessity of regulating and preventing such risks through new institutions and innovative cooperation. What is vital for second modernity is to show how these two processes are evolving; in particular, how a new second-modern response—that is, a more effective, flexible, and inclusive way of regulating global risks—develops with greater support not only from the elite but also from ordinary people. Revitalizing normative tradition is indispensable for the bottom-up approach.

26Fourth, as we become aware of the importance of the relationship between modernity and tradition, we now come to see the crucial point where East Asia profoundly differs from the West. To put it simply, in the West, modernity has been propelled by its own enlightenment tradition, whereas in East Asia, modernity has been cut off from its own tradition by and large. As Beck writes, in the case of the West, modernization started from the beginning as an “active” (not reactive), “internal” (not external), and “self-induced” (not forced) program of transformation energized by European enlightenment traditions. Modernity has been continually stretched out (not compressed, as in East Asia) by an internal logic of modernity (Beck and Grande, 2010: 416). In contrast, however, tradition was seen as a barrier to modernization in East Asia. Shocked at the advancement of Western military and economic power, East Asian countries became preoccupied with catching up to the West as quickly as possible, largely in terms of economic growth. For this reason, unlike Western countries, they were unable to pursue an indigenous model of development with a normative vision from their own traditions. This is why an East Asian sensitivity to second modernity looks quite different from that of the West.

27Tradition was never completely lost, however—on the contrary, tradition has been very much kept alive. For instance, Confucian values are visible in everyday life in Korea and China. Certain interpretations have been instrumentally utilized to strengthen authoritarian power in politics, factories, and the family. What has disappeared almost completely is the role tradition plays in providing the normative vision of development that needs public debate and justification. Against this historical background, and with the success in modernization today, it is natural for East Asia to try to go back to its own tradition in order to explore if valid normative resources are still available, because if so, it may be possible to launch a qualitatively new concept, which we could call a second-modern transformation.

Cosmopolitan change

28When we talk about tradition, we do not simply mean the revival of tradition. Going back to tradition (like community-oriented collectivism) for the sake of tradition has obvious implications of authoritarianism. What is needed is a forward-looking approach to tradition, that is, a critical reconstruction of tradition. This is exactly what Beck has in mind when he wants to radicalize cosmopolitan tradition by putting emphasis on coexistence with “radical others.” According to Beck, the European cosmopolitan tradition can be traced back as far as the ancient Greeks, and it is still alive. Yet, a nation-centered framework, or what he calls “methodological nationalism,” became powerful as modernization unfolded with the advent of nation-state, bureaucracy, army, national citizenship, and so on. Consequently, cosmopolitan tradition has fallen short of institutionalization. This condition makes it difficult for us to adjust to the changing reality of increasing trans-national interconnections and to develop a cosmopolitan framework of governance over global risks. Therefore, one of the goals he has pursued is to reconstruct cosmopolitan tradition. This can serve as a critical yardstick against methodological nationalism.

29When he dealt with climate change and cosmopolitan change at the 2013 Potsdam workshop, Beck (2013: 1) introduced a very stimulating observation by making a decisive shift of focus from a fearsome apocalyptic perspective to a perspective of “emancipatory catastrophism.”

We are faced with questions too big to fail and too big to answer. Most discussions on climate change are blocked, they are caught by catastrophism circulating in the horizon of the problem: what is climate change bad for? From a sociological point of view, because climate change is a threat to humanity, we can and should turn the question upside down and ask: what is climate change good for? The amazing thing is, if you firmly believe that climate change is a fundamental threat to all of humanity, then it might bring a transformative, cosmopolitan turn into our contemporary life and the world might be changed to the better. This is what I call ‘emancipatory catastrophism’ (Beck, 2013: 1).

30Easily put, “the more keenly future threats are recognized, the stronger the movement to overcome such threats by a new solidarity becomes. This is also in sync with the long tradition of critical theory which perceived crisis as the basis of hope” (Han, 2013). Beck insists that “climate change is the embodiment of the mistakes of a whole epoch of industrial capitalism, and climate risks pursue their acknowledgement and correction with all the violence of the possibility of annihilation.” He further claims that “the second modernity of world risk society breaks with the models of the reproduction of social and political order, setting in motion a whole range of new cosmopolitan dynamics, trajectories and regimes of transformation” (Beck, 2013: 3). He then touches upon the tradition of critical theory:

The main source of climate pessimism, underlying the present dominance of apocalyptic imaginaries, lies in a generalized incapacity to rethink fundamental questions of social and political order. […] In this sense there is a certain affinity between theory of risk society and Ernst Bloch’s principal of hope. Because global risk implies the message that it is high time for us to act! That is the paradox of encouragement we derive from global risks (Beck, 2013: 6).

31Social change in general and second-modern transformation in particular may be better understood as interplays of push and pull factors. Both factors can be seen as operating at the objective-structural and the cultural-discursive dimensions. An important point is that push factors alone are not enough. Pull factors are of equal significance for second-modern transformation since only these factors can provide forward-looking energy and meaning. If push factors are a blind force working behind individuals, pull factors, in contrast, invite them to proceed to an alternative development. Reflexive modernization can work well only when these two factors are combined to produce synergy.

  • 6 For example, the social construction of risks is neither simply “subjective” in the sense of consc (...)

32Beck is well aware of this dual task of sociological explanation. His recognition of the role of “risk culture” in shaping human response to risks clearly reveals this. Nevertheless, as a whole, he seems to have relied more on a structural explanation rather than attempting to combine these two dimensions. Cosmopolitan change, for instance, is suggested as a structural process of transformation that goes on everywhere, but it is less clear how this process gets concretely shaped within the action-theoretical framework. When he speaks of “cosmopolitan imperative,” he strongly implies that what is left to us—all countries, societies, and human beings—is just a matter of adjustment to this necessity. “Accepting or refusing these forces remains beyond willful political or social choices because they are globally reflexive—that is, compulsive” (Beck, 2010: 7). Thus we face “a cosmopolitan imperative: cooperative or fail!” (Beck, 2010: 7). Beck bluntly argues that “we all live in a Second, Cosmopolitan Modernity—regardless of whether we have experienced First Modernity or not” (Beck and Grande, 2010: 418). Those who are more able to adjust have better chances to survive. Beck seems to be interested in empirical variations depending on national or regional circumstances. Human action is then treated, at best, as subject to structural determination. This determinist implication undermines the discursive process of social construction, through which social attention is framed and function. Nevertheless, it is also true that Beck holds the constructionist approach with the concept of “risk culture.”6 Therefore, in order to get out of the trap of determinism, I find it meaningful to distinguish push and pull factors.

  • 7 I argued at the Potsdam workshop that this concept may serve better to grasp the complex meanings (...)

33If so, the question that we are to raise is: where does the energy for emancipatory catastrophism come from? Beck’s argument is clear and meaningful with respect to push factors, i.e., global risks, threats and fear, but his analysis does not go deep into pull factors. This question cannot be adequately answered by a typical structural analysis. Instead, it should address the deep cultural logic of shaping human inspiration and solidarity, as well as the worldviews as the pacemaker of human evolution. What we need is a genuine model of cosmo-politics that transcends national borders, race, and cultural differences. A good example may be the concept that I call tianxia gongsheng (天下共生) in East Asia.7 Roughly translated as “symbiotic cosmo-politics,” this concept is a combination of tianxia, meaning “the world” and stemming from Confucianism, and gongsheng, meaning “symbiosis” and stemming from Taoism and Buddhism. This concept may be more capable of grasping the full senses of cosmopolitanism than the conventional usage of the term in the West. Tianxia gongsheng excellently demonstrates the ecological interdependence of every entity in this world along with the relations between human beings, between nation-states, and between humanity and nature (Zhao, 2006).


34When we explore second-modern transformation in East Asia, we should pay full attention to different mindsets, in particular, the idea of community in relation to individuals. If I am not mistaken, Beck’s theory of individualization presupposes a particular community, which we may call a “libertarian community” wherein solidarity is contingent upon individual choices. Individuals can freely move in and out as they wish, forming a community that is flexible, contingent, and variable. The family is no exception. Forms of the family are variable depending on individual choices. Western liberal tradition seems to presuppose a fundamental antinomy between individual liberty and community. All communities except the libertarian fictive one are assumed to be oppressive. This presupposition is hardly acceptable in East Asia, where a mutually beneficial and flourishing relationship between the individual and community has long been preferred to the one-way development of individualization. Unjustifiable constraints of community over individual freedom need not to be tolerated. However, it is questionable to view community as such from a negative perspective by counter-posing individual liberty against it. Community involves precious normative and aesthetic resources in need of careful attention and cultivation for the benefit of individual liberty.

  • 8 Beck and Grande (2010) suggest four basic features of the individualization process in the West: ( (...)

35It is of crucial significance from this perspective to examine how individualization tends to be associated with community-oriented networks of various kinds in East Asia. I feel that this may offer a more meaningful research program for second-modern transformation in East Asia.8 To be sure, individualization refers to the structural process of transforming social relationships and thus should not be confused with individualism. However, individualization, as a historical process of transformation, may work better if the action-oriented, cultural-discursive dimension of individualism is strong and effective. If this pull factor is absent or weak, individualization may take a different track.

36To be more specific, I can accept individualization at four distinctive levels. First, as an overall tendency of cultural democracy, individuals become ever more “liberated,” so to speak, from collective, and often conventional and undemocratic, bondages associated with family, kinship, and other power organizations. We can observe this tendency almost everywhere in East Asia today. Second, in the legal domain, it is individuals, not any group, who are recognized as sovereign subjects entitled to claim their rights and obligations. Third, individual citizens have become more and more active and salient in social movements and political participation. Last but not least, the information revolution tends to facilitate individualization through Internet communication. No one can dispute the thesis of individualization as described above.

37What is debatable is another dimension of individualization as a specific way of life enforced by, and adjusted to, the neo-liberal imperative that one must take care of one’s life by one’s own means. Beck and Grande (2010: 426) identified two basic mechanisms of social welfare that modernity has institutionalized. One is a statist model (the European welfare state) and another is a societal model (companies in Japan, families in Korea). But none of these can work as effectively today as they did in the past. Consequently, individuals have been freed from such institutional arrangements and structurally pushed by the aforementioned neo-liberal imperative to take care of themselves by their own means. Seen from this angle, individualization is an objective tendency structurally determined independently of whether we have individualism or not. However, all these discourses are about the structural push factor of individualization, not the pull factor, which is as crucial as the former for concretely shaping the outcome. No matter how individualization is structurally dictated and empirically described as having had taking place, the actual course of history may differ significantly if social groups remain disillusioned of this course with strong demand for other social arrangements. As far as I can see, this is actually what has been happening in China and South Korea today.

38So I argue that East Asia differs from the West with respect to the cultural-discursive pull factors in second-modern transformation. In China, for instance, Yan (2010) points out a kind of unbalance or discrepancy between dis-embedding and re-embedding processes of individualization. He shows exceedingly well why and how dis-embedding has gone well in China. But the process of re-embedding involves many difficulties because the political, legal, institutional, and cultural conditions of individualism are simply negligible, if not absent. In other words, the cultural-discursive pull factor has given rise to such a strong aspiration and public demand that a comprehensive welfare framework should be introduced by the state to protect individuals from risks (Liu, 2009). Here we find a conflict between push and pull factors of individualization, which distinguishes East Asia from the West.

Concluding remarks

39Whether we deal with global risks or local risks, the most important condition for risk-preventive flexible governance is perhaps a balanced capacity and development between civil society and political institutions. Overcoming the legacy of state-centered development is particularly important for East Asia. One may still argue that since the state represents public authority and experts possess reliable knowledge and competence, citizens should follow the decisions made by the state and experts. Yet another may insist that since it is citizens who are affected by risks, citizens should join in the process of defining risks and the state should respect their preferences in formulating adequate policies. At this juncture, second modernity has something to do with the increasing role of citizens’ participation. The reflexive capacity of citizens is of utmost importance in the end, because it is neither the government nor experts nor businessmen who define what risks are and how to respond to them, but rather, citizens themselves. At the same time, it is equally important that political institutions upgrade their capacity to respond to these bottom-up demands flexibly and work out a good solution to improve the quality of citizens’ lives.

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1 This paper is a revision of the original paper presented at a special session of the annual conference of the Japanese Sociological Society (JSS) held at Nagoya University in Japan on November 5, 2010. The aim of this paper is to explore some salient issues of research on second-modern transformation in East Asia on the basis of the papers published recently in the British Journal of Sociology, Volume 61(3), September 2010 as well as the author’s discussion with Ulrich Beck during the special session of the JSS (as mentioned above).

2 This does not imply any fault on the part of Beck. It is natural and perhaps unavoidable for him to rely on the Western experience heavily, though he has struggled to get out of this trend. Beck (2010: 1) argues that varieties of “universalist social theory, whether structuralist, interactionist, Marxist, critical or systems theory [are] now both out of date and provincial […] because it mistakenly absolutizes the trajectory, the historical experience and future expectation of Western, i.e., predominantly European or North American, modernization and thereby fails to see its own particularity.” Despite this reflexivity, the limit can be improved well only when different trajectories towards second modernity are clearly formulated and brought into a constructive dialogue with the West, which is still lacking by and large.

3 Kim Dae-jung’s critique of Lee Kuan Yew in Foreign Affairs (Kim, 1997) can be best read from this perspective.

4 “Compressed modernity” means that transformation unfolds so fast that the traditional, modern, and post-modern principles of social organization do not replace one another but coexist at the same time (Chang, 2010). In this regard, Yui (2010) drew attention to the dual dimensions of compression—that is, time and space or vertical and horizontal—and attempted to analyze the Japanese experience of modernization from this perspective by examining the relationship among individual, intermediate groups, and the state. As he pointed out, the concept of compressed modernity has been more sensitive to the vertical axis of decoupling time than that of space, and in this sense his attempt to extend this concept to the horizontal axis is significant and promising.

5 The statements below are by and large taken from Han and Shim (2010).

6 For example, the social construction of risks is neither simply “subjective” in the sense of consciousness nor as “objective” as climate change. Yet this approach is clear when Beck talks about the importance of the culture of risks that defines how ordinary citizens perceive risks.

7 I argued at the Potsdam workshop that this concept may serve better to grasp the complex meanings of cosmopolitanism. Therefore, cosmopolitanism may be translated as tianxia gongsheng.

8 Beck and Grande (2010) suggest four basic features of the individualization process in the West: (1) de-traditionalization; (2) institutionalized dis-embedding and re-embedding of the individual; (3) compulsory pursuit for a “life of one’s own” and the lack of genuine individuality; (4) the internalization of risks. This model of individualization can be sustained if, in addition to push factors, pull factors at both the institutional and cultural levels are met as occurs in the West. If pull factors are either absent or weak, however, this model can hardly be sustainable. In this case, it may be better to distinguish different modes of individualization than using the singular concept of individualization. For instance, we may consider that Western experience comes close to what we may call a “libertarian” pathway to individualization while the East Asian case can be seen as a “neo-communitarian pathway to individualization.” The term “neo” means breaking away from all forms of traditional and authoritarian collectivism to embrace individuality within a flourishing community. More in detail, the Japanese pathway may be characterized by “runaway individualization in networks” and the Korean by a post-conventional individualization.

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Han Sang-Jin, « Second-modern transformation in East Asia: An active dialogue with Ulrich Beck », Socio, 5 | 2015, 45-64.

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Han Sang-Jin, « Second-modern transformation in East Asia: An active dialogue with Ulrich Beck », Socio [En ligne], 5 | 2015, mis en ligne le 06 novembre 2015, consulté le 23 mars 2017. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/socio.1897

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Han Sang-Jin

Han Sang-Jin est professeur émérite à l’université nationale de Séoul et enseigne actuellement en tant que professeur invité dans le département de sociologie de l’université de Pékin. Après un master à l’université nationale de Séoul, il a fait sa thèse à la Southern Illinois University, aux États-Unis. Il a été président de l’Académie des études coréennes, et, sous la présidence de Kim Dae-jung, président du Comité présidentiel à la planification politique. Il travaille actuellement à Aix-en-Provence dans le cadre d’un projet du Conseil européen de la recherche sur le libéralisme (le libéralisme entre l’Europe et la Chine – LIBEAC).

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