Culture of Fear or Risk Society? Beyond a False Opposition

Monday, 16 July 2018: 10:45
Oral Presentation
Dean CURRAN, University of Calgary, Canada
Sociological studies of risk have become increasingly polarized between a risk society perspective emphasizing the global, catastrophic nature of contemporary risk and those approaches that emphasize the excessive fear manifested by groups in society and how social policies and practices based on these excessive fears are having counterproductive effects. This paper argues that risk society or culture of fear is a false dilemma and that it is not only possible, but necessary to emphasize the importance of both of these perspectives. Specifically, Giddens’ embedding of the study of risk within the dynamics of contemporary capitalist modernity can illuminate how, a lá Beck we are facing increasingly important global systemic side-effects of the production of goods, while also experiencing, in many aspects of life, intensified fear that is not mirrored by the intensification of underlying conditions of risk. For the latter though, rather than solely developing an ideological critique of the fear, this paper follows Giddens in his social-materialist understanding of increasing fear in terms of accelerated and more individualized conditions of modernity which tend to increase ontological insecurity and replace psychological satisfying forms of trust with trust in distant abstract systems.