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From the threats posed by austerity and the fears around global migration to the unsettled notion of resistance, our political world is permeated with anxieties. But what does this mean for our everyday lived political experience? Do governments provoke or encourage a sense of anxiety as a form of control and power? How do citizens react to, comply with, or resist, this sense of anxiety?

This book interrogates the different faces of anxiety and provides a systematic engagement with its different manifestations. It uses different disciplinary approaches and methodologies to study political and social phenomena in order to paint a picture of the impact of anxiety, and how it governs and mobilises individuals. The key strength of these contributions comes from their theoretically informed analysis of empirical problems. Moving beyond the concept of the ‘risk society’ and the recurrence of cyclical capitalist crises, this book challenges the notion of the status quo to consider urges and desires for political change. By highlighting that anxiety is different from fear, the book examines new implications for the study of political events.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781783489916
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Publication date: 10/16/2018
Pages: 242
Product dimensions: 5.95(w) x 8.67(h) x 0.72(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Emmy Eklundh is a Lecturer in Spanish and International Politics at King’s College London. She researches social movements and populist parties in Europe and contemporary challenges to democratic theory.

Andreja Zevnik is a Senior Lecturer in International Politics at the University of Manchester. She publishes widely on topics of political philosophy, psychoanalysis, political struggles of marginalised groups (especially in the US), and the subject of resistance.

Emmanuel-Pierre Guittet is researcher at the Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL, Belgium) and associate researcher at the Centre for Research on Conflict Liberty and Security (CCLS, Paris - France).

Read an Excerpt

Politics of Anxiety

By Emmy Eklundh, Andreja Zevnik, Emmanuel-Pierre Guittet

Rowman & Littlefield International, Ltd.

Copyright © 2017 Emmy Eklundh, Andreja Zevnik and Emmanuel-Pierre Guittet
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-78348-992-3


Introduction: The Politics of Anxiety

Emmy Eklundh, Emmanuel-Pierre Guittet and Andreja Zevnik

Over the past few years, anxiety has become central for the understanding of socio-political phenomena and community life. Ignited and reinforced, but not caused, by the financial crisis of 2008, our world seems more uncertain, more insecure and, indeed, more anxious than before. At least this is how we seem to perceive it. Several phenomena bear witness of this surge of uncertainty. Young people are now the first generation in a long time which will not gain better living standards than their parents. Across Europe and other continents, youth unemployment is rife, and access to basic living needs, such as housing or a stable income, is for many but a dream. Similarly, conflict and violence are constant in our environment, with serious intra- and inter-state conflicts in the Middle East, increased tensions in the EU's Eastern neighbourhood and several high-profile terrorist attacks on the European soil in the past years. All of this suffices to establish that many feel anxious about the world and about its future. Politics as we know it, with relative peace in Europe, with increased welfare provisions and with a stable party system, is increasingly challenged. The last few years have also seen the establishment of innumerous anti-establishment parties. Ranging from Front Nacional in France, UK Independence Party in Great Britain, Alternative fur Deutschland in Germany, Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain, these parties tell a story of discontent and frustration among the electorate, to the same degree as more favourably viewed left-wing political endeavours for a different politics.

As such, it can be concluded empirically that we live in anxious times, if anxious means an uncertainty about the future, and a present discomfort caused by this uncertainty. However, such a statement carries our focus into questions such as, what does anxiety mean, and how is it different from other accounts of political uncertainty?

These two questions summarise the main focus of this volume. It intends to explain to its reader, by referring to a range of empirical and contemporary examples, how what we refer to as a logic of anxiety can help us analytically disentangle the web of explanations available to assess contemporary political challenges. In doing so, it sketches a trail of politics which is not reliant on two of our more common narratives: the recurrence of cyclical capitalist crises, or the inevitability of increased control trying to secure the population.


When taking stock on discussions which try to explain why our world has become more anxious, one often finds oneself choosing between two sides of political studies: the economic or the political. On the one side, structural economic explanations of discontent and anxiety are represented by critical theories of political economy, which have become very much in vogue since the 2008 financial crisis. Thinkers such as Guy Standing or David Harvey put forward a clear explanation as to why it is that we are facing this uncertainty: the presence of capitalist crises. Anyone familiar with Marxist theory will recognise in contemporary times how capitalism eventually drives itself to its own ruin and that the process will indeed be painful but necessary.

Indeed, many are the merits and benefits of such a perspective. It is true that economic inequality is increasing and that the capitalist class seems to be getting richer and richer. Standing's account of a new political class, the precariat, aptly describes how the working class has shifted in its composition over the years. With the arrival of increasingly uncertain working conditions, such as being an Uber driver or a Deliveroo employee, many have found themselves belonging to a class of the working poor, where there is employment, but this employment cannot by any means cover the cost of living.

Although anti-capitalist approaches provide a clear analytical path for the analysis of contemporary unrest, one must question the possible limits or shortcomings of such a perspective. The contributions to this volume, although largely sympathetic to the explanatory power of Marxism, also recognise that alternative explanations are needed for a further understanding of the topic. Based on a post-material or post-Marxist ground, the contributions of this volume acknowledge the power of affect and emotions to explain social behaviour. Some would say that capitalism produces anxiety, but this volume describes how capitalism and anxiety revel in an intricate relationship which is neigh-on impossible to separate and, therefore, crucial to study.

As such, contrary to the material component of capitalism, this volume also recognises the ideational and less material aspect of anxiety. Importantly, the volume does not abide by a strong division between material and immaterial, discursive and non-discursive, as seen in the recent material turn of political studies. Rather, the volume seeks to point to the ever-present interfaces and interjections between theory and practice, and material and immaterial.

This is highly relevant when it comes to anxiety. Some would argue that anxiety, as an emotion, can and should be controlled, or that it is not a driving force of social relations, merely a consequence thereof. This volume begs to differ with this statement. It does not recognise that material conditions are the sole drivers of social interactions, but that the social and political is constantly constituted and reconstituted through both material and immaterial planes. As such, the volume recognises that material conditions can indeed cause anxiety, but the relationship is mutually constitutive rather than a one-way street.

Recent works within the emotional and affective turns within international relations and social and cultural theory bear witness to this blurring of distinctions. No longer is the affective and the emotional supposed to be seen as negative components of political life (as argued by early theories of crowds, such as Canetti or Le Bon), but they are in fact vital to all aspects of politics. Following on from the emotional turn in sociology in the early 1990s, the affective turn has afterwards argued that both emotions – as a cognitivised version of our inner selves – and the very bodily sensations which are our daily experience are important to politics. The sensation of anger, joy or discomfort is political, due to its direct connection and intrinsic relationship with anything we as political subjects say or do. As such, the relation between the corporeal (the material) and the cognitive (the immaterial) is if not reversed then at least muddled. Ruth Leys elegantly argues that previous literature within cultural and social theory has operated 'at once with a highly intellectualist or rationalist concept of meaning and an unexamined assumption that everything that is not "meaning" in this limited sense belongs to the body'. Contrary to this perspective, this volume contends that anxiety – as a sensation, an emotion and a thought – prevails through all stages of being and must therefore be central for any political analysis. And with the understanding of anxiety as a logic conditioning the very existence of the political subject of modern politics further opens a new vista of research. That is one which studies anxiety as a co-constitutive element of who 'we' as political subjects are and in turn 'embraces' or aims to understand its effects rather than aims to overturn or overcome its effects. In other words, anxiety is here to stay.

At the centre of this reasoning lies a reconsideration of political subjectivity. As will be demonstrated in this volume, political subjects are indeed not only confined by structural constraints, such as security concerns or economic prudence, nor are they 'free' in the sense of complete autonomy. This volume rather tries to depict not only the constant compromise which anxiety imposes on political subjectivity but also the space for action which can be created through anxious states.


As we aim to show in this volume, the significance of anxiety stems from its operational and ordering logics. What exactly does this mean?

Since World War II, modern societies have progressively come closer to a perfectly countable and scientifically governed society whose future can be foreseen by eliminating knowable or predictable threats. This so-called risk society was based around the identification of danger, which when quantified as 'risk' was assigned ways by which it can be eliminated. In doing so, the 'risk society' not only eliminated danger but also took control of the individual's experience of fear. Ulrich Beck and Antony Giddens speak about risk society as a distinct practice of social order and governance. In their account, the expert and scientific knowledge took over the social field, by quantifying every possible social situation – from the individuals' everyday lifestyle to community actions, state behaviour and risks imposed by external phenomena such as natural disasters and the environment. By knowing the risks, the individual and the community could make a number of informed choices, which, in turn, shaped, moulded and transformed their social and political everyday life in ways which would eliminate or considerably lower the risk. Such risk society was, on the one hand, an answer to individual and societal fears, while, on the other hand, it produced fear of things that were previously not regarded as threats. The logic of risk was, in a sense, omnipresent as it governed the subject's most intimate and private spheres, as well as grand strategies of national and international security. Such future-oriented logics of governance were, at its origins, conservative; instead of progress, the risk society relied on the maintenance of the status quo. The fear of violence and death was in the very centre of risk society and worked as a deterrent against any radical action. The status quo was, on the one hand, comforting and reassuring; on the other hand, it left little space for urges and desires for political change.

Similarly, the quantification of risk also incited fear and suspicion in the population. The threat from terrorism with a government's sanctioned degrees of the existing terror threat seems to be at the forefront of these calculations. After 9/11 the United States and the United Kingdom, for example, were known for their colour-coded terror alerts. Ranging from green to red, the colours were to represent the level of threat or the likelihood of a terror attack. The peculiarity of the scale was that it was consistently elevated at amber (one below red), thus denoting that a risk of a terror attack is high and very likely. Such daily assessment of danger had an effect on the society and its population. On the one end, society learnt to live by being constantly alert to the possibility of a terrorist attack, while on the other end, such an elevated state of risk became an everyday normal. The individual learnt how to cope with it or how to pay little to no attention to it, yet, with the help of daily reminders of 'report if you see anything suspicious', vigilant and suspicious. One could argue that such a management of a security threat paralysed the population into accepting the status quo and learning to live with (at least a perceived) greater threat to their everyday security, while, on the other end, also pushed the 'old' risk-focused governing practices towards those which not only aim to manage, but also trigger, anxieties.

The present times of anxiety – as contributions in this book aim to show – have changed this logic of operation. As seen on the example of a terror alert, it is important to note that while the logic of anxiety is not a break, but a logical continuation of societal logics of fear and risk, there are also several important differences between the two. If the risk society mainly aimed at addressing fear with a hope to maintain the status quo and a continuation of life as it was, anxiety offers no such reassurance. In other words, in times of anxiety, the quantifying logic of risk no longer holds. Here, the object of danger or fear is either absent/non-identifiable, or in such a proximity that no reassurance can be offered. Such a destabilising moment opens up a new political space, which is governed by different political strategies and subject to different mobilising forces. In its extreme form, anxiety is thus a response to the realisation that the government, the state, security agencies and insurance companies, despite their claims, do not know how to provide for the well-being of its communities, secure the everyday, and respond to the arising internal and external threats.

As such, the logic of anxiety replaces the future-oriented, yet status-quo driven, politics of the risk society. Instead, it offers a different political temporality, one which, while indeterminate, unpredictable and insecure, offers a return to politics par excellence, as opposed to politics as a technocratic procedural practice. What we mean by it is that while more terrifying and at times no doubt more exposed to authoritarian practices, the logic of anxiety can also lead to a positive change precisely because its politics is not one of the future but that of present. In a risk society, the individual had to become immunised against all possible social risks, dangers, diseases and even everyday processes. These posed dangers to the individual's ability to make rational and informed decisions, or to their emotional well-being, and therefore had to be subject to control. For example, this logic reached as far as one's love life, where dating sites or agencies actively promoted a safe way of 'falling in love'. That is, you 'fall in love' without the 'fall' (the fall being too disturbing for the everyday productivity of the individual). While perhaps banal, such practices of risk reduction aimed to immunise society from external dangers and unnecessary risk-takings. Such governing practices gave individuals and societies a sense of continuity, history and future, and it also bereaved that same future of the possibility of change. In the society governed by anxiety, those practices persist but the guarantee of their ever-delivering 'a sense of security', continuity or history diminished. Despite knowing the risks, being presented with the solutions, there is little guarantee that those solutions will deliver the expected outcome. This uncertainty is very much visible in the mainstream political discourse today – just think of campaigns for Brexit or the US presidential election of 2016. The discourse of apocalypse on the one end is juxtaposed to the discourse of experience and the ability to manage unpredictable situations. Yet the politics driven by data, evidence, facts or technocratic practices of governance is absent from both ends. Technocratic politics no longer appeals to voters and the general public; instead, this politics has been replaced by a character, emotion, a sense of belonging or unsubstantiated promises of a better, different world.

In addition, two major shifts in contemporary political reality have incited a change of perspective from risk to anxiety: for example, the Arab Spring and the revelations concerning mass surveillance and the abrogation of human rights and political freedoms in the name of the war on terror. The aftermath and the consequences of these two events began to chart a different political reality. Drawing from the two aforementioned political shifts the logic of anxiety works in two different, yet interconnected, logics.


The first logic aims to paralyse the subject, by exposing it to great, unknown, unpredictable dangers, which in turn makes them more prone to guidance and control. Joanna Bourke speaks of anxiety as a form of anaesthesia that penetrates into all pores of social and political life, with an aim to displace time. That is, it fixates the existence of the subject in the present moment, while dismantling any dreams or illusions of a different/better future. In anxiety, existence is reduced to its bare form fighting for a survival in a present moment. Anxiety as a governing practice cancels political futures as seen in the society of fear. Instead of reassurance, it is panic or apocalyptic scenarios, driven by the proximity of the overwhelming fear, which face society.

The second logic is a mobilising force, which departs from a linear conception of time and breaks with the status quo – ordered and – negotiated future. While indeed paralysing in the moment of encounter with a particularly displacing event or danger, in time the individual or society finds a different imaginary with which they respond to the growing instability, danger or injustice. Instead of politics as a technocratic procedural practice, the new temporality draws on a hive of possibilities, multiplicity of choices, and actions influencing, shaping and producing the socio-political every day. While indeed lacking in 'assurance', anxiety liberates society from the present political institutions and technocratic governing practices, and returns the individual to the driving seat of politics.


Excerpted from Politics of Anxiety by Emmy Eklundh, Andreja Zevnik, Emmanuel-Pierre Guittet. Copyright © 2017 Emmy Eklundh, Andreja Zevnik and Emmanuel-Pierre Guittet. Excerpted by permission of Rowman & Littlefield International, Ltd..
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Table of Contents

1. Introduction: Politics of Anxiety, Emmy Eklundh, Emmanuel-Pierre Guittet and Andreja Zevnik / Part I: Politicizing Anxiety / 2. For want of not: Lacan’s conception of anxiety, J. Peter Burgess / 3. When does Repression become Political?, Henrique Tavares Furtado / Part II: Security: Control / 4. Anxiety: Trauma: Resilience, Mark Neocleous / 5. The New Age of Suspicion, Emmanuel-Pierre Guittet and Fabienne Brion / 6. The Effects of Uncertainty: Anxiety and Crisis Preparedness, Carsten Baran / Part III: Resistance: Reclaiming / 7. The Politics of Anxiety and the Rise of Far-Right Parties in Europe, Norma Rossi / 8. Indignation as resistance: Beyond the Anxiety of No Future Alternatives, Paolo Cossarini / 9. Neurotic Neoliberalism and the Economics of Anxiety, Japhy Wilson / Part IV: Epilogue / 10. Sovereign Anxiety and Baroque Politics, Michael Dillon

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