Society Of Fear by Heinz Bude

The Blurb On The Back:

From the rise of terrorism to the uncertainties associated with economic crisis and recession, our age is characterised by fear.  Fear is the expression of a society on unstable foundations.  Most of us feel that our social status is under threat and our future prospects in jeopardy.  We are overwhelmed by a sense of having been catapulted into a world to which we no longer belong.

Tracing this experience, Heinz Bude uncovers a society marked by disturbing uncertainty, suppressed anger and quiet resentment.  This is as true in our close relationships as it is in the world of work, in how we react to politicians as much as in our attitudes towards bankers and others in the financial sector.  Bude shows how this fear is not derived so much from a “powerful other” but rather from the seemingly endless range of possibilities that we face.  While this may seem to offer us greater autonomy and freedom, in reality the unknown impact and meaning of each option creates a vacuum which is filled by fear.

What conditions lead people to feel anxious and fearful for themselves and others?  How can individuals withstand fear and develop ways of making their fears intelligible?  Probing these and other questions, Bude provides a fresh analysis of some of the most fundamental features of our societies today. 

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Heinz Bude is a Professor of Sociology at the University of Kassel and in this very academic book (translated from German by Jessica Spengler), which I found difficult to follow at times, he sets out the nature of the fears inherent within modern society, from fears within relationships to fears of immigrants and foreigners and fears among the middle and working classes.

This is a very academic book with Bude presuming that his reader has a degree of familiarity with sociological theory, citing a number of theorists throughout the book without going to much explanation about their work.  As a layman reader this did leave me at a bit of a disadvantage and I have to admit that I did struggle at times to follow Bude’s arguments (although sociology students would no doubt find it easier).  This is a shame because he makes some interesting observations about the types of fear in play within the various aspects of our lives and I was particularly interested in the chapter about “longing for a non-terminable relationship” where he hones in on the fears and desires at play in seeking a romantic encounter.  Also fascinating was his chapter on success and how the nature of success can turn people against themselves, framed by reference to powerlessness, imposter syndrome and resentment.

Ultimately, while Bude makes some interesting points about the nature of fear I wasn’t really sure what the end purpose of it was.  It appeared that by identifying the nature of our fears, it gives people a means to defeat them but I wasn’t left convinced by this – especially as some of the fears that he talks about appeared to me to be structural within society and therefore reinforced by it.  I did find this an interesting read but it was a difficult one to get to grips with and I think you really need to have an academic interest in the subject to get everything from it.

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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