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Science in the World Risk Society: Risk, the Novel, and Global Climate Change

Sylvia Mayer


Anthropogenic climate change constitutes one of the major global risks of our time. In spite of widespread scientific consensus, however, climate change discourse is still characterized by controversy. This controversy reflects both a variety of conflicting interests that frame the perception of climate change and a fundamental trend in our age of reflexive modernity: an increased awareness of scientific uncertainty and a loss of trust in scientific authority. It also defines our current cultural moment as paradoxical: societies worldwide are simultaneously characterized by such increased awareness of scientific uncertainty and by reliance on scientific knowledge to a historically unprecedented degree. According to Ulrich Beck, this paradox in part defines what he conceived of as a new manifestation of modern society, the ‘world risk society.’ This essay addresses the fictional contribution to the risk discourse of global climate change. After introducing the role of science in the world risk society and the climate change novel as a fictional risk narrative, it discusses how Susan M. Gaines’ Carbon Dreams (2001) and Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior (2012) engage with this paradox, how they explore the complex socioeconomic, political, and cultural significance of climate science and the role and experience of climate scientists.

Corresponding author: Prof. Dr. Sylvia Mayer, American Studies, University of Bayreuth, Universitätsstr. 30, 95440 Bayreuth, Germany

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Published Online: 2016-6-9
Published in Print: 2016-6-1

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