Cultures of Fear: A Critical Reader

Cultures of Fear: A Critical Reader

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780745329659
Publisher: Pluto Press
Publication date: 12/08/2009
Series: Anthropology, Culture and Society Series
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 360
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Uli Linke is Professor of Anthropology in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Rochester Institute of Technology in the US. She is the author of several books including German Bodies (1999), Blood and Nation (1999), and Denying Biology (1996). Danielle Taana Smith is an Assistant Professor of Sociology in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at RIT.

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Fear: A Conceptual Framework

Uli Linke and Danielle Taana Smith

Washington (CNN) – A Muslim family was removed from an airliner after passengers became concerned about a conversation they thought they overheard "of the safest place to sit." AirTran officials refused to rebook them, even after FBI investigators cleared them of wrongdoing.

1pm Thursday [January 1, 2009]: AirTran flight 175 was preparing for takeoff from Reagan National Airport outside of Washington DC, a flight destined for Orlando, Florida. Among the passengers were Atif Irfan, his brother Kashif Irfan, their wives, a sister and three children, ages 7, 4, and 2; they were headed to Orlando to meet with family and attend a religious retreat. "The conversation, as we were walking through the plane trying to find our seats, was just about where the safest place in an airplane is," Sahin said.

While the plane was still at the gate, an F.B.I. agent boarded the plane and asked Irfan and his wife to leave the plane. Passengers were informed that there was a "security situation" — a "breach of security" — on the plane. The rest of the family was removed 15 or 20 minutes later, along with a family friend, Abdul Aziz, a Library of Congress attorney, who was coincidentally taking the same flight and had been seen talking to the family. "I guess it's just a situation of guilt by association," Aziz said. "They see one Muslim talking to another Muslim and they automatically assume something wrong is going on."

The conversation did not contain the words "bomb," "explosion," "terror" or other words that might have aroused suspicion, Irfan said. (Ahlers 2009)

Washington DC (The New York Times) ... But passengers sitting behind them evidently overheard the ["safest" seat] remark, saw Mr. Irfan's beard and his wife's head scarf, and grew concerned. ... The worried passengers contacted flight attendants, who contacted Transportation Security Administration officials and soon Mr. Irfan and his wife were off the plane and being questioned in the jet way. Next, the nine Muslim passengers — all but one are United States-born American citizens — were taken to a quarantine area in the passenger lounge where they were questioned by FBI agents. Mr. Irfan's three small nephews were denied access to food in the family's carry-on luggage. ...

"To be honest, as Muslims, we do understand how to deal with this, we realize this is an unfortunate aspect in our lives," Mr. Irfan said. "Whenever we get on a plane, because of the color of our skin, people tend to look at us with a wary eye anyway." (Robbins 2009)

Irfan said he and the others think they were profiled because of their appearance. He said five of the six adults in the party are of South Asian descent, and all six are traditionally Muslim in appearance. (Garder 2009)

According to Inayet Sahin: "There is a climate of fear that is present. When you are on the [Washington] beltway it says, 'Report any suspicious activity.' When you come into the airport, it says, 'Report any suspicious activity.' So people, you know, are just afraid, looking for suspicious activity." (Ahlers 2009)

AirTran defended its handling of the situation. In a statement issued, the company said:

At departure time, the Captain of flight 175 informed the airline that there were two federal air marshals onboard who contacted local and federal Washington law enforcement officials for a security related issue onboard the aircraft involving verbal comments made by a passenger and overheard by other passengers. The airline then advised the Transport Security Administration (T.S.A.). It was determined that all 104 passengers onboard must deplane and passengers, crew, baggage and the aircraft should be re- screened. After the re-screening of the passengers, crew, bags and the aircraft, 95 passengers were allowed to reboard the aircraft and nine were detained for interrogation by the local law enforcement officials, the F.B.I. and the Transport Security Administration. ... AirTran Airways complied with all Transport Security Administration, law enforcement and Homeland Security directives and had no discretion in the matter. (Robbins 2009)

"Security," "safety," "protection," and "defense." These are among the terms circulated as part of a global public discourse of fear which encourages proactive military action, legitimates war as a surgical intervention, and authorizes faraway acts of violence as a means of national border fortification. The securocratic language of the contemporary western state is war talk: it not only empowers a state's military reach across national borders, but diminishes civil society, abandons human rights, diplomacy, and visions of peace. In US-American militarized media productions, the figure of the enemy outsider is conflated with the terrorist, who is imagined as a syncretic figure, as Muslim-Arab-Black. In this terrain of propaganda, mediatized militarism invigorates a montage of fear and race, recuperating an Africanist Orientalism that resonates across the Atlantic divide, into Europe, and worldwide.

The attacks on New York and Washington in 2001 and the ensuing declaration of the "war on terror" by the United States have had significant consequences for global social life. Anti- terrorist policies designed in the interest of national security and border protection forged a climate of unprecedented state- legitimated terror against phantasmatic others: US visions of the "axis of evil" or the figure of "the terrorist" are as illusive as reactive — fueling a popular desire for fortified borders. But these ideological fantasies about fortification and border protection are not merely discursive machinations. They are grounded in the operational logic of an expansive capitalist empire that seeks to disguise inherent instabilities and contradictions by a turn to war on terror. In the United States, the shifting configurations between politics, power, and capital have encouraged a rigid nationalism and vigilant patriotism.

But in the neoliberal global order, the economic requirements of mobility, flexibility, and deterritorialization collide with the state's political commitment to securitize space. In this context, the imperatives of national security not only restructure the terrain of the biosocial (Giroux, Chapter 20 this volume) by an appeal to racial hierarchies but alter the essence of the border regime. As Miriam Ticktin observes, "the struggle to define citizenship and the borders of the nation-state is now also a struggle to define the threshold of humanity and of life itself" (Chapter 9 this volume). The ubiquity of borders and the liquidity of empire are symptomatic of this current reality of the capitalist security state: a nation form, founded on fear, in which policing, surveillance, and militarism have become companions to normal life.

In such a context of heightened security measures and scenarios of threat, this book explores how fear has become a central feature of global social life: it shapes those societies at the very core of the "war on terror" (the United States, the European Union, Australia) as well as those national communities pushed to the margins by globalization, violence, and armed conflict (El Salvador, Mozambique, Uganda). In this chapter, we present a conceptual framework for the intercultural study of fear. Our discussion takes the following format. First, we map out the scope of this volume by a focus on a global logic of fear. Second, we explore the possibilities for a cultural analytics of fear by a heuristic focus on European border regimes. Third, we elaborate how a culture of fear is normalized in everyday social life to emerge as an ontological praxis. Fourth, we outline the organization of the book's contents, giving particular attention to the thematic grouping of essays. Since each of the volume's thematic sections begins with a separate introduction to explain our choice of focus and texts, this chapter provides an account of the book's overarching conceptual frame.


In this book, we expand contemporary discussions about the entanglements of political terror, national security, and human life not only by a comparative, transnational, and global perspective but also by moving beyond more narrowly focused terrorism-security debates. Our collection of essays provides a critical exploration of the formation and normalization of fear in global contexts of war and armed conflict. Our aim is to enable readers to engage the political, social, and cultural dimensions of fear with a humanistic and judicious approach.

This undertaking requires a particular conception of fear. We conceive of "cultures of fear" in terms of the regimes of terror that are discursively, strategically, and experientially imposed on human beings entrapped in the increasingly volatile contact zones between political systems, militarized communities, and administrative apparatuses. Cultures of fear have a political grounding: negative emotions like fear or terror are produced and sustained to govern populations within the carceral spaces of militarized societies. In this sense, an emergent cultural system of fear cannot be understood solely as a byproduct of violence or as an inevitable symptom of war. Forms of terror are artifacts of history, society, and global politics. Cultures of fear and states of terror are affective tools of government that come into being as a modus of population management deployed by military, political, and administrative actors (Masco, Chapter 3 this volume). With our selection of chapters, we reveal the similar logics of fear that governments, humanitarian agencies, and extremist organizations use to monitor, control, and contain human beings in various zones of violence.

This book offers a comprehensive examination of the cultural manifestations of fear across the globe: the studies range from North America and Europe to Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Australia. Our goal is to provide readers with a deeper understanding of the cultural modus of fear: what forms it takes, how it is perpetrated, in what contexts it occurs, and what marks and traces it leaves on the bodies and minds of ordinary people. Our investigation is thus less concerned with specific acts of violence perpetrated in different parts of the world. Rather, we explore the formation of a global logic of fear under conditions of war and in the aftermath of political violence. We seek to illuminate the parameters, practices, and discourses that support the contemporary complex of terror-fear in societies worldwide. Our collection of essays shows that reification, normalization, and sublimation are among the procedures variously deployed by securocratic, bureaucratic, technocratic, militaristic, and mediatized forms of social governance in different parts of the globe. In exploring the deeper, often hidden, impact of cultures of fear, we reveal the common linkages between seemingly dissimilar conditions of violence that structure the lives of human beings — as citizens, immigrants, and refugees — in the contemporary world.


How does a global logic of fear take local form? How is the relationship between the security state and the biopolitics of privilege, race, and fear made evident in militarized societies? How do neoliberal security states sustain the fortification of borders in different parts of the world? These are among the central questions addressed by our collection of essays. The perpetual formation of militarized violence, racist terror, and destructive dehumanization across the globe makes it imperative, as Simon Gikandi proposed, to confront the imperial machination "on its home ground" (1996: 27). Accordingly, we are persuaded to take the pertinent task of critical analysis back to the centers of global power, beginning with Europe and the United States. But while committed to this endeavor, we further argue that there is an urgency to widen the scope of such an analysis. There is a need to incorporate a transnational perspective to uncover the global hegemony of terror that structures the relations between subjects, communities, and nations. Following Noam Chomsky (Chapter 2 in this volume), the political history of globalization, including the violent reach of Western imperialism, requires us to rethink existing notions about the geographies of security and threat. In the contemporary world order, as Chomsky points out, the spaces and places where terror is enacted and where cultures of fear take form are not disparate, self- contained political geographies. Transnational flows of capital, media, migration, soldiers, sex, and weapons connect local situations to global networks and global centers of power. This analytic position is shared by other contributors to this volume. For example, by a focus on the global proliferation of US military bases, Cynthia Enloe (Chapter 16) documents how the traffic in sex and gendered violence impacts emergent cultures of fear in local communities across the world, from Okinawa in Japan to South Korea and Chile. By investigating the underground abuse of children by UN peacekeeping forces in Mozambique, Carolyn Nordstrom (Chapter 13) likewise uncovers how the local sex trade is driven by multinational industries with global connections. Although locally situated, cultures of fear are shaped by the dynamics of global power relations.

The essays in this volume approach the subject of fear from different angles, along various analytic trajectories. Positional perspectives illuminate the workings of fear in disparate societal frames and ethnographic contexts: military violence and armed conflict, the aftermath of war, the impact of international intervention, refugee camps, the quest for asylum, and the border protection by security states. What do these distinct settings have in common? How do we connect or assemble anthropological insights from separate places, situations, and events toward an integrated understanding of a global culture of fear? Based on a cohesive analysis of an exemplary case, we can identify those prevailing parameters that organize the ways in which cultures of fear are formed, sustained, and normalized. In the following, we examine the violent procedures of empire through the specters of a culture of fear that govern the borders of Europe. Our discussion is guided by the following questions: What spaces, borders, and enemies are imagined or manufactured to serve as catalysts for protective militarism? How are populations governed, monitored, and disciplined in the realm of global security? And how is an emergent culture of fear linked to the proliferation of border regimes?

Cultures of Fear: Borders and Others

In studying cultures of fear and regimes of terror as situated "imaginative geographies," Stephen Graham describes "the ways in which imperialist societies tend to be constructed through normalizing, binary judgments about both 'foreign' territories and the 'home' spaces which sit at the 'heart of empire'" (2006: 255). The "binaries of place attachment" serve to demarcate a putative "us" in opposition to "the other", "who become the legitimate target for military power. ... Very often, such polarizations are manufactured and recycled discursively through racist and imperial state and military discourses and propaganda, backed up by popular cultural representations" (256). Such mutually exclusive imaginings of a securitized 'inside' and a threatening 'outside' are enforced by border regimes that monitor, protect, and sustain cultural notions of relative human worth. As we suggest in this book, cultures of fear rely on this performative capacity of borders.

We therefore begin with an inquiry into the meaning of political borders. How do borders perform their designated task of inclusion and exclusion? Do we envision borders as geophysical entities or as legal, political, symbolic and social forms? In what societal spaces can we locate borders? Following Etienne Balibar, we need to speak of a "regime of borders," "both in the middle of the European space and at its extremities" (2004: 13). Indeed, any modern state recognizes or creates "borderlines," as Balibar asserts, "which allow it to clearly distinguish between the national (domestic) and the foreigner" (4). The outer borders of Europe, as mapped out by single states, incontestably have a geospatial dimension, a territorial reference or landmark, a footprint just beyond no-man's land, where "the entrance of asylum seekers and migrants into the European 'common space'" can be regulated and controlled (14). But on the ground, where matters of belonging and exclusion are decided, borderlines also acquire tangible form as legal, political, and social contact zones (Ticktin, Chapter 9 in this volume). European Union territories, like other federated entities (the United States), are defined by "open" borders in the interior — the so-called Schengen space — where European citizens can traverse national borders without passport or identity checks. This inner "open" borders in the interior — the so-called Schengen space — where European citizens can traverse national borders without passport or identity checks. This inner "open" space, which guarantees the freedom of mobility for nationals, is protected by the simultaneous fortification of exterior borders. This is one snapshot of fortress Europe: an imagined political community with an interior borderland that is envisioned as open, liberal, democratic, and an exterior security border that is monitored, policed, and protected against refugees, immigrants, non-Europeans, and political enemies.


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Table of Contents

1. Fear: a conceptual framework - Uli Linke and Danielle Taana Smith

Part One: Cultures of Fear
2. The New War against Terror - Noam Chomsky (MIT)
3. Engineering Ruins and Affect - Joseph Masco (University of Chicago)
4. Terrorism and the Politics of Fear - David L. Altheide (Arizona State University)
5. Welcome to the Desert of the Real - Slavoj Žižek (University of Ljubljana)

Part Two: States of Terror
6. Human Rights and Complex Emergencies - Lucia Ann McSpadden and John R. MacArthur (Pacific School of Religion & Centers for Disease Control)
7. Speechless Emissaries - Liisa H. Malkki (Stanford University)
8. Trauma and Vulnerability During War - Doug Henry (University of North Texas)
9. The Violence of Humanitarianism - Miriam Ticktin (New School for Social Research)

Part Three: Zones of Violence
10. Gender, Terrorism, and War - Susan J. Brison (Dartmouth College)
11. The Continuum of Violence - Cynthia Cockburn (City University London)
12. Child Soldiers - Julia Dickson-Gómez (Medical College of Wisconsin)
13. Girls Behind the (Front) Lines - Carolyn Nordstrom (Notre Dame)
14. On the Run - Solrun Williksen (Norwegian University of Science and Technology)

Part Four: Intimacies of Suffering
15. War and Sexual Violence - Elisabeth Jean Wood (Yale University)
16. Militarizing Women's Lives - Cynthia Enloe (Clark University)
17. The Political Economy of Rape - Meredeth Turshen (Rutgers University)
18. On the Torture of Others - Susan Sontag

Part Five: Normalizing Terror
19. Cultural Appropriations of Suffering - Arthur Kleinman and Joan Kleinman (Harvard University)
20. The Biopolitics of Disposability - Henry A. Giroux (MacMaster University)
21. Empire of Camps - Nicholas Mirzoeff (New York University)



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