Ulrich Beck, 1944-2015

One of the leading sociologists of his generation has died

January 29, 2015

Source: PA

Ulrich Beck was born in Stolp, Germany (now Slupsk in Poland) on 15 May 1944, although the family soon moved to Hanover. A passionate lover of literature from an early age, which often led to conflict with his naval officer father, he started to study law at the University of Freiburg but, in 1966, secured a grant for gifted students and moved on to the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich to pursue a far wider curriculum in sociology, politics, philosophy and psychology.

After completing his PhD in 1972, Professor Beck continued to teach at Munich before taking up professorships at the University of Münster (1979-81) and the University of Bamberg (1981-92). He then returned to Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich for the rest of his life, although he also took up a series of visiting professorships at the University of Wales, Cardiff, the London School of Economics and the Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme in Paris.

The proximity of the Alps in Munich, Professor Beck once told Times Higher Education, allowed him to go walking, “escape everyday life” and so “forget about the problems of the world”. Coming to London to teach at the LSE, by contrast, provided a way of engaging with just such problems. From the time of Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity (1986; English edition: 1992), he established himself as a leading analyst of a confusing era in which global upheavals such as terrorism, climate change and financial disasters are a constant and unpredictable danger. What Is Globalization? (1997; English edition: 1999) and Cosmopolitan Vision (2004; English edition: 2006) took the argument further. Although major work remains to be published, Professor Beck’s most recent solo-authored book is German Europe (2012; English edition: 2013), which develops the case for a united Europe and offers a notably sharp picture of Angela “Merkiavelli” Merkel.

Equally important were the books he published with his wife, the distinguished sociologist Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim, whom he married in 1975. Living with someone from a partly Jewish family that had been scattered across Europe, Professor Beck explained, forced him “to live the ‘cosmopolitan’ reality that I am writing about”. It was also she who made him “understand the sociology of love, family and gender relations”. Their close intellectual collaboration led to a number of ambitious and influential works, including The Normal Chaos of Love (1990) and Distant Love (2014).

Professor Beck died of a heart attack on 1 January and is survived by his wife.


Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford will host a homeopathy conference next month

Charity says Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford is ‘naive’ to hire out its premises for event

women leapfrog. Vintage

Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O’Gorman offer advice on climbing the career ladder

Woman pulling blind down over an eye
Liz Morrish reflects on why she chose to tackle the failings of the neoliberal academy from the outside
White cliffs of Dover

From Australia to Singapore, David Matthews and John Elmes weigh the pros and cons of likely destinations

Michael Parkin illustration (9 March 2017)

Cramming study into the shortest possible time will impoverish the student experience and drive an even greater wedge between research-enabled permanent staff and the growing underclass of flexible teaching staff, says Tom Cutterham