The anthropology of fear: what can social fears teach us about today's societies?

Andrea Boscoboinik (University of Fribourg)
Hana Horakova (Metropolitan University Prague)
Carole Lemee (Université Bordeaux & UMR 5319)
Start time:
11 July, 2012 at 11:30
Session slots:

Short abstract:

The aim is to discuss expressions of fear in various contexts, dealing with what people are afraid. We must learn to live with uncertainty, and learn to tame our fears. Which are the strategies and mechanisms used by groups or societies to reduce fear, to face it, to cope with it, to overcome it?

Long abstract:

Fear, an individual feeling, is also a social experience. Besides, fear is expressed socially and leads to socio-cultural constructions. Although a feeling can be shared, it is not always easy to approach it anthropologically. Despite the difficulty of making an "ethnography of fear", according to the term of Jeudy-Ballini and Voisenat (Ethnographier la peur, 2004), it is still possible to read into collective fears, through their sociocultural demonstrations, the major concerns of a society and its cultures. Collective fears are not the sum of individual fears. Risks perceived as threatening society as a whole may lead to collective fears. Some 'big issues' favour the development of collective fears: an uncertainty of the future turned into a fear of disaster; technological progress and the major risks it brings; a sense of insecurity; threats to the future of the planet and of humanity; and a spread of diseases; among others. Some contemporary events trigger off fears, such as the debt crisis in Europe and the threat of another economic recession. Moreover, since anthropology has been traditionally concerned with Otherness we can find, unsurprisingly, the fear of Other that so many times has led to ethnocides and genocides.