As world-renowned sociologist Ulrich Beck wrote in 1986, modern society can be defined as a Risk Society in the sense that the development of technology and industrialization resulted both material affluence and newly manufactured risk. Even after more than 30 years, South Korean society is still exposed to continuous “social risks” as a consequence of industrialization. Let us consider what risks Korean society is recently facing and why they have arisen.
What is “Risk Society”?
According to the theory of risk society, social risks mean catastrophic accidents accompanied by economic affluence, which have unpredictable and uncontrollable features. Modern Korean society is faced with various social risks caused by rapid industrialization and underdeveloped political systems.
What risks does Korean society face?
Harmful chemical substances from food and daily necessities
From egg scandals to sanitary pads issues, fears and discontent of consumers are spreading throughout the country.
A total of 52 eggs which accounted for about 4 percent of all farms were found through a complete investigation released on Aug. 21. Among the detected pesticides, fipronil, which is prohibited to be used for hens, was found. Other substances were also known for causing cancer or disabilities on liver or thyroid. Symptoms are mild and temporary, but in the long term, it is still unclear how harmful the substances will be to the human body since any epidemiological survey that can prove a correlation has not been undertaken.
Controversy over the safety of the sanitary pads is also skyrocketing since the results of risk assessments had been unveiled. According to a research conducted by the Korea Women’s Environmental Network, women have experienced menstrual irregularity and even cervical diseases due to sanitary pad contamination.
Massive hacking attacks like ransomware
Symantec, a global security company, released a report on Aug. 30, stating that ransomware attacks aimed at corporations and agencies are expected to increase continuously.
Ransomware is a malicious software that blocks the PC owners’ access and requires them to pay money to the hackers to retain those rights. It can be quickly spread through an integrated organization network. With the advent of virtual money such as bitcoin, it has become more widespread.
For now, most universities are determined to get Information Security Management System (ISMS) applications. However, the universities are doubtful about its effectiveness and suitability.
“The group of universities are opposed to getting ISMS,” said the manager of Information Systems Team.
Instability of nuclear power plant
Concerns have been growing as a series of management failures at nuclear power plants were revealed lately.
The fact that Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co. (KHNP) recalled all the floor plates of the Shinhanul nuclear power plant No. 1 and No. 2 was revealed on Aug. 24. Due to the fact that the KHNP checked only the assessment results and then recalled building sources late, this affair has something in common with the component supply scandal that happened in 2013.
Representatives of the progressive Justice Party investigated the poor construction of Hanbit nuclear power plant No. 4 because a metal foreign substance was found in the hanger after the poor construction of iron plates and concrete was discovered on July 26.
What has caused those social risks?
In modern society, we are not just in more dangerous situations, but are faced with newly upcoming risks that former societies could not experience. We cannot easily predict and control recent social risks; if risk occurs beyond time or space thresholds, these may not be able to be completely solved by any individual or by country on its own.
Blind spots caused by excessive specialization
Risk of exposure to harmful chemical substances happens when there are too many varied organizations without integrated management systems. In other words, the related government ministries shift responsibility to each other and fail to rapidly recognize the possibility of risk occurrence. Consequently, the responses to solve problems progress irregularly.
To utilize chemical substances as safely as possible, scientific risk assessment, management and communication towards the public should be operated systematically. “However, in the case of Korea, the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety, Ministry of Environment, and Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy are separately in charge of managing chemical substances and their related products,” said Kwon Ho-jang, professor at Dankook University who has studied the risk assessment of hazardous substances residue in foods.
Disappearance of temporal and spatial limitations
According to Beck’s theory of a risk society, the cause and effect of social risks is ubiquitous.
This recent society is a knowledge-based society in which knowledge and information are accumulated with the form of a “bit,” which is free from physical limitations. Integrated information is a valid method in the process of decision making, and people recognizing the value of data are actively utilizing information resources in their daily lives.
The reason hacking organizations is increasing is that data known as big data and personal information possess high economic value. If they flow outward, privacy and property could be threatened. The actual revenue accrued by black hackers is estimated to be at over 2.5 billion dollars according to the Google’s research from 2016.
New forms of ‘risk’ occurred
Manufactured risk triggered from human beings or their behaviors is different from the traditional danger affected by external variables such as earthquakes, storms, droughts or epidemics in that it always existed without any typical cause.
Half of the total nuclear power plants are located in south-east terrains that are susceptible to earthquakes, so we are not perfectly safe from some fatal earthquakes. Even though Korea has leading technologies in the field of building nuclear power plants, scandals and human faults do happen over and over again.
Recently accidents and social conflicts prove that we are always exposed to risks directly or indirectly. These cannot be prevented or solved by one’s effort. Therefore, an active attitude towards improving current problems is required at the national level as well as individual level.
Reporter of National Section