Fear as a property and an entitlement

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Abstract

Dominant approaches to fear in the social sciences and humanities tend to consider fear as a negative and disempowering emotion. Such analyses conceptualise fear as an indistinct mass phenomenon, a characteristic of an abstraction, such as ‘risk society’ or ‘culture of fear’ or ‘dictatorial power’. By contrast, this paper examines the structure of the experience and management of fear by individual subjects, and relates this to questions of morality and self-reflection. Using the cases of omens and horror movies, it is shown how fear is evoked and ‘managed’ within assemblages, which might include other people, frightening objects, ghosts, animals, diseases, technologies, or monsters. One is conscious of one's own fear and hence fear itself can become another ‘thing’, a property, which somehow must be dealt with. The theoretical proposition here is that fear need not be conceptualised as all-embracing. An emotion such as fear is ‘mine’ / ‘ours’ and contained within an identity; and yet, being a relation, it puts into question the connection between this passing element of what we think of as ‘self’ with the world outside. Such an approach opens the possibility of examining the management of fear, its coming and going over time, the evaluations that are made of it (as noble, despicable, justified, irrational, etc.), and the entitlements it provides in society. In particular, it raises the question of attitudes towards other humans as objects of fear, and the circumstances in which they are repudiated or, to the contrary, embraced.

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