Anxiety in a Risk Society

Anxiety in a Risk Society

Anxiety in a Risk Society

Anxiety in a Risk Society

Synopsis

Few would dispute that we are living at a time of high anxiety and uncertainty in which many of us will experience a crisis of identity at some point or another. At the same time, news media provide us with a daily catalogue of disasters from around the globe to remind us that we inhabit a world of crisis, insecurity and hazard. Anxiety in a Risk Society :
looks at the problem of contemporary anxiety from a sociological perspective
highlights its significance for the ways we make sense of risk and uncertainty
argues that the relationship between anxiety and risk hinges on the nature of anxiety.
Iain Wilkinson believes that there is much for sociologists to learn from those who have made the condition of anxiety the focus of their life's work. By making anxiety the focus of sociological inquiry, a critical vantage point can be gained from which to attempt an answer to the question: Are we more anxious because we are more risk conscious? This is an original and thought-provoking contribution to the understanding of late modernity as a risk society.

Excerpt

Anxiety, like fear, joy and melancholy, is that most individual of feelings, but yet one that we all share, to a greater or lesser degree, more or less frequently. Sociology has a long history of analysing what appear to be individual ills in terms of the social conditions in which they arise. Durkheim demonstrated how the very personal decision to end one's own life is in fact patterned by culture, and suicide is a social as well as individual phenomenon. In the same vein, Brown and Harris investigated the social aetiology of depression in working-class women, and this too proved to be highly associated with social structural location, and life circumstances and events. Iain Wilkinson continues this tradition with his study of anxiety, both in its aetiology and in responses to it, but goes further than this in his interrogation of the way in which the term has been employed (and sometimes appropriated) by social theorists in recent years, most particularly in the literature on risk. Demonstrating beyond any doubt that anxiety is not the exclusive provenance of psychology or psychiatry, Wilkinson brings to the subject a clarity of thought and writing which renders his arguments a pleasure to read (even though the topic is at the core of our daily concerns and troubles). Seeking to connect what C. Wright Mills identified as the public sphere of structure with the personal realm of experience, he demon-strates that anxiety is both a function of larger changes in society and of the individual experience of un-ease: 'anxiety is conceived not so much as a personality defect, but rather, as a…consequence of the social predicaments and cultural contradictions in which individuals…live out their day-to-day lives'.

While Wilkinson alerts us to the continuing prescience and insights of the psychoanalytic writings of Freud and Fromm, it is difficult to separate his purpose in this book - of using the social theories of risk to better understand anxiety - from the efforts of others over 150 years to analyse our responses to

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