Not knowing, emancipatory catastrophism and metamorphosis: Embracing the spirit of Ulrich Beck

Gabe Mythen, Sandra Lyn Walklate

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Embracing the spirit of his observation that ‘what was ruled out beforehand as inconceivable is taking place’, this article urges a re-engagement with Ulrich Beck’s work within security studies. In so doing, the article falls into three parts. First, we provide necessary contextual orientation, discussing the magnitude of Beck’s contribution to understandings of risk and security in the social sciences. Second, we discuss the importance of comprehending Beck’s unique methodological approach in order to appreciate the more specific resonances of his work. Third, we endorse the theoretical novelty of Beck’s work, demonstrating the ways in which the tools that he devised might be put to use and extended in future. To this end, we focus on three interconnected conceptual devices developed by Beck in the latter stages of his career: nichtwissen, emancipatory catastrophism and metamorphosis. We conclude by emphasizing the vital need to grasp the practical as well as the academic ambitions that underpinned Beck’s projective style of social theory.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)403–419
Number of pages17
JournalSecurity Dialogue
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Metamorphosis
  • risk
  • Ulrich Beck
  • uncertainty

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