Culture of Fear: Risk-Taking and the Morality of Low Expectation.
Albert Camus once described the twentieth century as the `century of fear': Furedi's book gives one perspective on the manifestation and consequences of fear in the closing decade of the century. Furedi's argument is as follows: contemporary western society is gripped by an obsession with risk, which he defines as a fusion of technical calculation with social perceptions of hazard. In this configuration, risk becomes a byword for danger and as such, something that exits autonomously rather than being the outcome of an individual act. Safety has become the cardinal virtue of our society and fear has become the principal tool for the promotion of its values and practices. The corollary of this is that people come to believe that the risk of negative side-effects (`hidden dangers') outweighs the benefit of experiment, so consequently shy away from innovation.
This dogma--Furedi calls it the `new etiquette'--is part of what he sees as the new moral landscape out of which has emerged a `culture of victimhood' and an ironic convergence of beliefs between conservative traditionalists (who are concerned with recovering a religious moral order) and advocates of institutionalized caution. Both are interventionist and seek to regulate behaviour which falls outside a moral agenda (in the case of the traditionalists, the religious order and in the case of the new etiquette, behaviour which is risk-taking rather than risk-avoiding).
Towards the end of Chapter 2, Furedi sets out what he regards as the main causes of the advent of this risk consciousness. First, the growth of individuation during the Thatcher and Reagan administrations which--contrary to popular rhetoric--did not produce societies of confident and entrepreneurial individuals. And secondly, the transformation of institutions and relationships in society: the `strong' institutions of trade unions and political parties have been replaced by institutions such as self-help groups and counselling organizations. These two processes generate much weaker links between people and enhance the feelings of vulnerability. According to Furedi, the risk industry has fed on this vulnerability and the media have exploited the industry's outpourings.
In Chapters 3 and 4, Furedi provides examples of what he regards as the manifestation of the risk-obsessed society. Chapter 3 explores the `culture of abuse' (for example, domestic violence; child abuse, elder abuse) as an instance of how human relations have been defined as inherently risky and we have become oversensitized to abuse. Unfortunately, the persuasiveness of his argument is undermined by the fact that his illustrations are from the margins of the body of knowledge about abuse; for example, the chapter features a lengthy discussion about the allegations of satanic abuse, but there is no reference to the investigations into widespread abuse in children's homes in England and Wales. And his treatment of the issue of workplace bullying seems frivolous: `What the MSF (trade union) categorises as bullying in the workplace is what used to be called office politics. Personality clashes, mismanaged relations and petty jealousies are the stuff out of which workplace bullying is born' (p. 81). This depiction ignores completely the hierarchical character of most workplace bullying and therefore the fact that it is frequently a vehicle for the abuse of economic power. As a consequence, Chapter 3 ends up as an extremely selective excursion through a much more extensively and thoughtfully researched area of social relations than Furedi gives it credit for. Chapter 4 focuses on the `institutionalisation of caution' (p. 108) and raises some genuinely difficult questions about this that we would be unwise to ignore. Furedi argues that it is within the sphere of childhood that this has had the most effect; adult practices to shield children from the risks of traffic or abductions may--paradoxically--have produced children who are less able to cope with the unexpected: `If everybody is dangerous, children will not develop the ability to discriminate between friend or foe or know how to spot trouble' (p. 117).
In taking issue with both the traditional and the new positions, Furedi seems to be advocating some form of `third way' which he believes to be more progressive than either of these. Furedi argues that we should replace the manifesto for caution with one which values risk-taking (something he views as a vital dimension of the human condition). However, despite this plea, there is no consideration as to what he would include in the category of acceptable risk-taking and little attention to how this might contribute to a better society, apart from in the very general sense that it would produce `heroes' rather than `survivors'.
This book should be of interest to criminologists, particularly those who are interested in trying to understand the place of risk-taking in a society where exhortations to personal safety through risk avoidance (with the emphasis on individual responsibility for this) are paramount. I remain, however, unconvinced by Furedi's argument that society has become oversensitized to abuse and attaches greater significance to victim status than to any other form of human experience, particularly in the absence of any attempt on Furedi's part to consider how we might prevent the risk-taking activities of some individuals--joy-riding, burglary, drug dealing and so forth--from leading to the all too real victimization of others.
Penny Fraser National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (NACRO)
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|Publication:||British Journal of Criminology|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 1998|
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