how everyday emotions are being transformed by post 9/11 measures and terror talk


According to Setha M. Low (writing from the USA 5 years ago): “We are enmeshed in a historical period when fear and anxiety are being manipulated to produce unhealthy political ends. The consequences of this social atmosphere are not just political, but produce increasing fears in children and an obsession with safety and security that is claiming ground and appropriating feelings even within the ultimate retreat – home.” (p.62)

Since September 11, 2001, the Bush administration has mobilized a discourse of insecurity to create a psychological environment that allows the constriction of liberty in the USA, while continuing an unpopular war in Iraq.” (p.47)

She goes on to say that “political manipulation of terrorism and threat from outside is inscribing a new structure of feeling based on fear, and re-inscribing the paranoia of the Cold War period to further militaristic and imperialist aims. / This fear and insecurity discourse is becoming equally salient in Western Europe, in the form of a war against terrorism and discrimination against Muslim immigrant populations. These repressive actions have been justified by the well-publicized terrorist attacks in London and Madrid, while France has experienced widespread riots in the immigrant suburbs of Paris, based on anti-Muslim sentiment.” (p.47)

“One [-p.48] response to this production of insecurity,” Low writes, “has been increased surveillance and policing, as well as residential fortification, including the building of gated communities. Even though gating predates this period of homeland security and terrorist threat, it symbolically and materially accommodates these fears and provides a superficial sense of protection.
Catherine Lutz and Geoffrey White argue that the months of terror post-9/11 generated a tremendous overload of emotion and that this emotion has been ‘‘learned, half-learned, resisted, reformulated or ignored’’ by intense cultural tutoring that shapes how we make sense of what we feel (Lutz & White 2002:6). They conceptualize the emotions and the practices they represent as ‘‘emotive institutions’’, illustrating how media discursive practices evoke and reform emotions through television war news.
These emotive institutions are one component of the production of a new structure of feeling expressed in a variety of material and discursive forms including architecture and urban planning. Neoliberal practices of the shrinking state and the re-inscription of responsibility on individuals and communities are the second component in this process. Individuals and communities in cities are encouraged to protect themselves from perceived threats, thus contributing to the emergence of a new pattern of civic militancy even at home.” (pp.47-48)

“In this article,” Low explains, “I outline my concerns [about how everyday emotions are being transformed by post-9/11 measures and terror talk and how they are infiltrating the most private of spatial domains, that of home] and provide ethnographic illustrations from gated communities on how new emotive institutions are emerging and transforming the domestic emotional climate.” (p.48)

Low presents a very interesting discussion of how our concept of (and relationship with) the ‘home’ has developed in recent centuries (pp.48-50). She also presents a history of gated communities in the USA along with an ethnographic study of gated communities in New York and Texas (pp.50-61).

According to Low: “The gated community is a response to transformations in the political economy of late-20th century urban America. The increasing mobility of capital, marginalization of the labour force, and dismantling of the welfare state began with the change in labour practices and deindustrialization of the 1970s, and accelerated with the ‘‘Reaganomics’’ of the 1980s.” (p.51)

Walls can provide a refuge from people who are deviant or unusual, but this necessitates patrolling the border to make sure no-one gets in. The resulting vigilance necessary to maintain these ‘‘purified communities’’ actually heightens residents’ anxiety and sense of isolation, rather than making them feel safer (Flusty 1997). In some cases, the micro-politics of exclusion is about distinguishing oneself from the family who used to live next door. Status anxiety about downward mobility due to declining male wages and family incomes, shrinking job markets, and periodic economic recessions has increased concern that children will not be able to sustain a middle-class lifestyle. Middle-class status anxiety also takes the form of symbolic separation from other families who have fallen on hard times, families who share many of the same values and aspirations, but who for some reason ‘‘did not make it’’. The ‘‘exclusivity’’ and ‘‘status’’ advertised by new gated communities is being marketed to an already anxious audience created by the economic turbulence of the 1980s. Assurances that walls and gates maintain home values and provide some kind of ‘‘class’’ or ‘‘distinction’’ is heard by prospective buyers as a partial solution to upholding their middle- or upper middle-class position. / Crime and the fear of crime also have been connected to the design of the built environment.” (p.53)

Most gated community residents say that they are moving because of their fear of crime, but what residents are expressing is a pervading sense of insecurity with life in the USA. Policing, video surveillance, gating, walls and guards do not work because they do not address the basis of what is an emotional reaction. An ever-growing proportion of people fear that they will be victimized. Not surprisingly, then, fear of crime has increased since the mid-1960s, even though there has been a decline in all violent crime since 1990 (Brennan & Zelinka 1997, Flusty 1997, Stone 1996). It is not an entirely new sense of insecurity, but comes from increasing globalization, declining economic conditions and economic restructuring, the retreat of the state from social reproduction and the overall insecurity of capitalism. 9/11 and Homeland Security combined with neoliberal practices that have shifted the responsibility for security to individuals and communities have exacerbated it.” (p.56)

“Compared with most large cities, suburbs do not have many public places were strangers intermingle, and the relative isolation and homogeneity of the suburbs discourages interaction with people who are identified as the ‘‘other’’.” (p.56)

“Barry Glassner (1999) argues that news reporting capitalizes on our greatest fears proposing that it is easier to worry about ‘‘Mexicans’’ or ‘‘workers’’ – focusing on symbolic substitutes – rather than face our moral insecurities and more systematic social problems. The bombing of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 has [-p.60] added to this discursive repertoire of fear and insecurity for New York residents.” (pp.59-60)

West and Orr (2005) [found] ‘‘The more people talked about 9/11, the more worried they became about becoming a victim’’ (West & Orr 2005:99). Defensive behaviour of not going downtown and staying home, encouraging increased home surveillance (Low 2003), and hiring professional security guards (West & Orr 2005) as well as building home based safe rooms and keeping two weeks of supplies on hand in a safe place, have emerged as common home behaviours with negative– fearful and anxious–emotional reactions. 9/11 has had an impact on people not only in New York City but also along the entire Northeast corridor, and in other large cities like Los Angeles.
Whether it is black salesmen, errant workers or fear of a terrorist attack, the message is the same: residents are using walls, gates and guards to keep perceived dangers outside of their homes and neighbourhoods. Contact with others and symbolic substitutes or explanations for their sense of insecurity incites palpable fear and real concern, and in response they are moving to secured residential developments where they can keep other people out. The perceived threats of crime, other people, a porous neighbourhood that is easily entered, and terrorist attacks engender a defensive emotional climate within which residents attempt to create safe and comfortable homes. But the reactive emotions of home – fear, insecurity, worry, paranoia and anxiety – dominate their conversations.” (p.61)

“…fear of others and an emotional shift in the local environment play significant roles in the transformation of how residents feel about their home places.” (p.61) “These reactive emotions, however, are not independent of the historical moment in which they occur and are sustained by a social and political context of fear and distrust.” (p.62)

“A new structure of feeling promoted by the Bush administration is creating a citizenry more concerned with protecting their homes than with protecting social and political freedom.” (p.62)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold, mine) Setha M. Low (2008): Fortification of Residential Neighbourhoods and the New Emotions of Home, Housing, Theory and Society, 25:1, 47-65

ABSTRACT Research on the fortification of residential environments and the spatial production of ‘‘security’’ within gated communities has lead to a broader understanding of how everyday emotions are being transformed by post 9/11 measures and terror talk. A new structure of feeling is infiltrating the most private of spatial domains, that of home, and further rationalizes and legitimates the practices of social exclusion, fortification, and racialization of space that mark current sociospatial politics. This article presents ethnographic illustrations from gated communities in New York and San Antonio, Texas, of how new emotive institutions are emerging and transforming the domestic emotional climate.

Reference is to: Lutz, C. & White, G. (2002) Emotions, war and cable News, Anthropology News, February, pp. 6–7.


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