26th International Conference of Europeanists, June 20-22, 2019
Universidad Carlos III de Madrid
Organized by the Council for European Studies

Panel: Community and belonging: What makes us stick together (and drift apart) in an Anxiety Culture

From a modern European point of view, communities are a reality, or at least a discursive topic operating on very different levels of territorial extension. The sedimentation of philosophical approaches to community, compounded by the extension of this concept to hitherto unexamined constellations (unions, federations, political associations), has posed a significant challenge to establishing and classifying communities and forms of belonging that align with the layers of interrelation and interdependence that are the lived reality of most people in their private and public lives.

One important manifestation of this inability to provide solid criteria is the manifold forms of worry and anxiety about being, or feeling like, a member of particular communities. This panel advances the heuristic of Anxiety Culture to investigate, from various disciplinary perspectives, the difficulty many people feel in determining their identity with regard to home, peer group, social class, ethnicity, religion, ideology, region, nation, state, or international association.

The panel session was chaired by Prof. John Allegrante from Teachers College, Columbia University, New York. In his own introductory contribution he pointed out that anxiety is a pervasive and insidious feature of modern life as anxiety disorders have increased tremendously the last 40 years (referring to the American Psychological Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical). This paper discussed the contours of anxiety as a concern that can manifest itself as clinical, cultural, and social phenomena. Thus, in the spirit of Illich’s conceptualization of iatrogenesis, its intent is not to study anxiety in a reductive psychological or medical idiom, but rather to understand it as a cultural and social phenomenon against the background of migration, community realignments, and technological saturation. Allegrante analysed if anxiety can be viewed as analogous to the medical concept of iatrogenesis and seen as a middle range theoretical concept, in which way anxiety culture yielded a more specific set of research questions surrounding the current state of health.  

Prof. Ulrich Hoinkes introduced his reflections on “Deschooling Society” (Illich) with a film emerged from a student’s project on anxiety culture at Kiel University. In this film, students expressed their concerns about climate change, depression or their fears about the future in a cinematographic way. His approach to Illich’s “Deschooling Society” pointed out the involvement in research and the role of the subject as victim of Anxiety Culture, as its manipulator or as a more or less sovereign agent of Anxiety Culture. 

PD Dr. Karen Struve’s contribution to the panel discussed the role of emotions in geopolitics and the notion of the “culture of fear” coined by Dominique Moïsi. After a short systematic look on the reciprocal relation between the notions of anxiety and culture, she presented Moïsi’s “culture of fear” and his hypothesis about the shift towards a “clash of emotions” in our times. Struve showed in which way contemporary novels (from Germany, France, Great Britain, the United States, Italy, etc.) about anxiety culture focused on climate change, artificial intelligence or migration provide specific aesthetic strategies not to illustrate, but to construct anxiety phenomena.

Dr. Monica van der Haagen-Wulff analysed performative dimensions of anxiety and the tension between logics of affect and performativity in the context of migration. In this context she read anxiety on the one hand as an emotion and on the other as an articulation of a cultural privilege, the privilege of being able to articulate anxiety, as an affect that turns its back on the subjects reduced to objects/bodies, because they are associated with danger and are thus threatening. The cultural meaning of the articulation of affect–danger–body lead to questions as follows: who, based on what conditions, counts as physically and morally dangerous? Furthermore, we ask: who, based on what social conditions, is attributed the privilege of expressing their personal fear and anxiety (in the public sphere) as an absolute fear?

The presentations of the papers were followed by a fruitful discussion about the comparability of anxiety phenomena in different cultures, about the theoretical tension between psychoanalytical notions of anxiety and those coined by cultural studies, and about the importance of new technologies for anxiety in the sense that they shape new perceptions of control, intimacy and the body. 

The AC project was received very positively by the public, giving our discourses positive impulse and interdisciplinary esteem for our research program.