Discourses of fear are pervasive in contemporary western cultures. Fear is frequently represented as a deﬁning cultural mood; a set of popular catch phrases – e.g., politics of fear, fear of crime, fear of the future, fear factor – attests the signiﬁcance of fear as a cultural idiom for interpreting life. The institutionalisation of discourses of fear through media alerts about health warnings or terrorist threats should not be interpreted as proof that the quantity of fears has increased, however. The perceived tangible reality of a culture of fear merely indicates that fear functions as a historically speciﬁc metaphor for making sense of and interpreting a range of experiences. The normalisation of fear narratives has important implications for students of
moral panics. Fear serves as a cultural metaphor to express claims, concerns, values, moral outrage, and condemnation. Yet in the twenty-ﬁrst century, the authority to allocate responsibility for fear is contested; it is now common for people to blame politicians, institutions, advocacy organisations, and businesses for ‘playing the fear card’ or for practising the ‘politics of fear’. The allocation of blame pertaining to the promotion of fear parallels the tendency to condemn people and institutions for participating in the construction and dissemination of moral panics (see Hunt 1997). In this regard, contemporary representations of fear are closely linked to representations of panics. The aim of this chapter is to examine the distinct quality of twenty-ﬁrst-century repre-
sentations of fear and to explore the relationship between fear and moral panic. I argue that contemporary cultures of fear have three important dimensions. First, in recent decades fearing has become increasingly privatised. Despite a common cultural idiom characterised by the mediation of fear, responses to perceived threats often assume a privatised, individuated character. Discourses of fear, in this regard, are dialectical: they situate individual risk management strategies against collective dimensions of harm. The absence of a shared experience of fearing both exposes and reinforces the
relative weakness of a common web of meaning through which western societies make sense of the threats they face. This expresses a tendency towards the disassociation of fearing from the grammar morality – a second important dimension of contemporary fear cultures. The decoupling of fear claims from the language of morality endows fearing with an objective character, and this third dimension of contemporary fear culture has important implications for moral panic theory.