The Discursive (De)Construction of Anxiety Culture: A Multidisciplinary Research Project Concerning Social Threats and Public Education
This international research project is based on a current cooperation between Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, and Kiel University.
Our age has become an age of crisis, and one key feature of modern society is the constant discussion of threats and dangers to social life and how they may be overcome. In fact, even democratically based commitments to principally positive aims are publicly discussed in terms of such threats and dangers, for example the issue of pensions turning into a debate on looming old-age poverty. The consequence of this, whether in the mass media or in private life, is to produce an anxiety culture, in which our discussions are profoundly marked by concerns and fears, in turn creating a social environment in which latent fears are constantly stoked for commercial or political advantage. One of the main challenges of anxiety culture is to promote learning processes that allow the public to appropriately respond to threats and dangers, perceived or real.
Defining educational responsibility in the face of discursive practices in times of social crisis is an intellectual stimulus on moral grounds, born out of shared research interests from scholars who are at the same time a part of society. The research project investigates anxiety culture from three perspectives, each suggesting strategies for overcoming the damaging effects of this culture:
1. The Sociological Perspective: Modern, technological society is characterized by a set of linguistic and performative practices which heighten common perceptions of threats and dangers into a full blown anxiety culture. The sociological perspective investigates the institutional, but also the interpersonal dynamics of this process and suggests possible ways in which anxiety can be reduced, or when appropriate, as in the case of climate change, increased.
2. The Linguistic Perspective: Public discourse contains patterns and dynamics specific to anxiety culture, namely the characteristic of heightening threats and dangers. Careful analysis of public discourse surrounding topics such as migration, climate change, and security reveals the ways in which the perception of threats and dangers are shaped. The linguistic perspective analyses journalistic outlets, social media, and official discourse as they pertain to public threats and dangers.
3. The Pedagogical Perspective: For anxiety culture to be reduced, the education system must meet the challenge of promoting more critical, reflective, and balanced judgments in a society that encourages overreactions. The pedagogical perspective investigates how threat scenarios are integrated into the modern curriculum and whether they are producing the kind of judgment that is needed to appropriately react to anxiety culture.