Vol 9, No 1 (2009)

Subjects of Fear

Fear is a fact of life. Understanding what it is that people fear, and how their fear is manifested, offers powerful insights on cosmologies, epistemologies, and social relations. Contemporary fears have many sources, and include fears of extinction, disease, disaster and chaos; fears about particular spaces (the urban, the border, what is distant, what is close); fears about particular kinds of others (terrorists, criminals, the IMF); and fears expressed in temporal terms about what has been lost, and what is to come. Fear operates as an index of moral anxiety, of trauma and memory, and the sense that menacing, enigmatic forces determine visible outcomes in the world. States of fear can be deliberately created.

Central to fear, as anthropologist Mary Douglas (Purity and Danger) identified decades ago, is the positing of boundaries, and concern with their fragility. Among the most significant boundaries - often a refraction of other fears - are those that separate kin from outsiders, enemies from friends, and people who belong from people who do not. To secure boundaries people make claims articulated in terms of indigeneity and national belonging. Prominent objects of fear are the boundary-crossing migrant, whose presence contaminates, and the boundary-violating cosmopolitan, whose movements signal an ungrounded detachment from identifiable values and commitments. Other objects of fear include more primordial figures, like the religious fundamentalist or ethnic nationalist, whose attachments to place and to ideology are portrayed as overdetermined and uncosmopolitan. Thinking, talking, and writing about fear can transform it, spread it, contain it, refigure it.

The articles in this special edition, generously supported by a Connaught Grant, are based on presentations at the 2007 Fear Symposium, held at the University of Toronto as part of the CASCA/AES joint conference. These papers explore the hauntings of past suffering, the instantiations of contemporary violence and terror, and the anxieties of anticipated futures. Working from ethnographic material from disparate field sites and delving into literary renderings, this collection engages with fear as a universal but heterogeneous theme of social life and human experience.

Guest Editors:

Tania Li, Canada Research Chair, Professor
Joshua Barker, Professor
Hollis Moore, Doctoral Student
Zoë Wool, Doctoral Candidate

Table of Contents

Research Articles

Jennifer D Heung
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Tak Uesugi
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Paul Manning
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Zoe H. Wool
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Ariane Belanger-Vincent
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Karin Doerr
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Michael B. MacDonald
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Dianne George
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Kim Shively
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Timm Lau
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Rayette Ellen Martin
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Emma Jo Aiken-Klar
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Cherry Lei Hunsaker-Clark
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Ted Swedenburg
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Andrew Galley
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Michelle Wyndham-West
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Laura Eramian
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