Anxiety Governance


  • Brenda Cossman

    Professor of Law and Director of the Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies
    1. University of Toronto
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    • She thanks Michael Trebilcock, Marcus McCann, and Kerry Rittich for their comments.


This article explores the role of anxiety in neoliberal regimes of self-governance, arguing that anxiety has become a technique of governance. Discourses of anxiety produce anxious subjects who undertake a range of self-governing projects to manage and mitigate the experience. I explore anxiety governance in the environmental context of “eco-anxiety,” motherhood, and the controversy over Bisphenol A in baby bottles. Maternal toxic vigilance, in which individual mothers assume responsibility for the environmental health of their children through better consumer choices, is a classic example of this anxiety governance. The regulatory failure of the neoliberal state reinforces this self-governance; governments cannot be trusted to protect children from the toxins that are poisoning them, so mothers must do it themselves. Finally, notwithstanding the depoliticizing tendency of these self-governing projects, I consider the political potential of this maternal toxic vigilance, exploring whether anxiety governance might more productively engage the political.