Research interests and plans
Recent research interests
Since 1995, my work has explored the different manifestations of the way that contemporary western culture attempt to give meaning to social experience. The current problems that society has in engaging with uncertainty has focused my interest on the workings of contemporary risk consciousness and loss aversion. In 1995, I published a study on the international contraceptive pill panic of 1995, titled The International Impact of a Pill Panic. The varied response to this panic in different societies led me to ask questions about why some cultures have a more developed consciousness of risk than others. Most of my work in recent years has been devoted to the development of a sociology of fear and an exploration of the cultural developments that influence the construction of contemporary risk consciousness.
Although my work is strongly influenced by the insights of social constructionist sociology, my past training in field work and history bring to the study of social problems a historical and empirical dimension. Elements of this approach are outlined in Population and Development (1997), The Silent War (1998) and in particular in The Culture of Fear (1997, 2002 – new revised edition 2007). These three texts examine the problematisation of different forms of social anxieties (race, population and risk) and have provided me with an opportunity to elaborate a sociological approach that synthesises the methods of historical inquiry with the insights of sociological investigation. Paranoid Parenting (March 2001, Allen Lane (Penguin), revised edition forthcoming October 2008) develops this approach in relation to social anxieties about childhood. This work will be developed in a historical-sociological study of fear – the aim of which is to outline the workings of the fear market and to isolate what constitutes our distinct 21st century rules of fear.
Since 9/11, I have been exploring the way that the reaction to this event provides insights into the contemporary consciousness of risk, and how episode has influenced the public perception of risk. A preliminary study, Refusing to be Terrorised; The Management of Risk After September 11, published by Lloyds/Global Futures, attempted to develop an analytic framework for making sense of this dreaded form of risk. This research was further developed through a research project associated with the ESRC’s ‘The Domestic Management of Terrorist Attacks’ programme. The publication of my study Invitation To Terror (2007) expands the analysis of The Culture of Fear to the issue of terrorism.
Alongside my study of risk consciousness, I have explored the cultural influences that have encouraged society to become risk-averse and to feel a heightened sense of vulnerability. The defining feature of people is increasingly represented as their vulnerability and it is frequently suggested we live in an age where people’s mental health and emotions are permanently under siege. The cultural influences that promote a new version of diminished subjectivity constitute the subject of Therapy Culture - Cultivating Vulnerability In An Uncertain Age (Routledge, 2003). Along with colleagues committed to the more robust version of personhood associated with the humanist tradition, I am engaged in a cultural critique of attempts to medicalise people’s experiences and behaviour.
As a humanist scholar committed to the promotion of an intellectually engaged public life, I have sought to reflect on the contemporary challenges facing education, culture and intellectual life. My approach towards these issues is outlined in the book Where Have All The Intellectuals Gone? Confronting 21st Century Philistinism. At present I am engaged on a study of the relationship between the so-called crisis of education and the problem of meaning in contemporary culture.
The main research problem underpinning my future work is the problem of authority today.
In contemporary times where authority has to continually justify itself and is continually contested, the authority of authority requires reflection. Authority is not a taken-for-granted institution. Indeed the age-old concern with ‘crisis of authority’ has expanded and encompasses questions such as ‘trust’, ‘confidence’ and ‘competing knowledge claims’. Lack of certainty about the authority of authority is both an encouragement to claims- making and to its contestation. Claims-making has always been a competitive enterprise. Today this competition has become complicated by the fact that the authority or authorities it appeals to are also intensely contested. Who speaks on behalf of the child or the victim? Whose account of global warming is authoritative? Those in authority look for the authorisation of others to validate their claims. Scientists, advocacy organisations seek alliances with authoritative celebrities. Governments appeal to the evidence of experts to justify their policies. In the absence of moral authority the launching of new government initiatives are frequently accompanied by ‘new research’ that legitimises such policies.
The search for foundational authority and the contemporary problem of morality are the themes that I will be studying and discussing in the years ahead.
Publications relating to research 1989-2008
Single authored books
1. Invitation To Terror: The Expanding Empire of the Unknown, Continuum Press, 2007.
2. The Politics of Fear: Beyond Left And Right, Continuum Press, 2005
3. Where Have All The Intellectuals Gone?: Confronting 21st Century Philistinism, Continuum Press, September 2004. (Translated into Dutch, Korean, Italian, Polish and Chinese).
4. Therapy Culture: Cultivating Vulnerability In An Anxious Age, Routledge, 2003. (Translated into Italian).
5. Culture of Fear (revised edition – 3 new chapters), Continuum Press, 2002. (Translated into Turkish and Chinese).
6. Paranoid Parenting, Allen Lane (Penguin), 2001. (Translated into French, German, Italian, Danish and Dutch).
7. The Silent War: Imperialism and the Changing Perception of Race, Rutgers University Press, 1998.
8. Culture of Fear: Risk Taking and the Morality of Low Expectations, Cassell, 1997.
9. Population and Development, Polity Press, 1997.
10. Colonial Wars and the Politics of Third World Nationalism, I.B. Tauris 1994.
11. The New Ideology of Imperialism; Renewing the Moral Imperative, Pluto Press, 1994.
12. Mythical Past - Elusive Future: History and Society in an Anxious Age, Pluto Press, 1992.
13. The Mau Mau War in Perspective, James Currey/Ohio University Press, 1989. Kenya edition 1990, Second edition, 1991
Other academic publications
1. ‘Medicalisation in a Therapy Culture’ in David Wainwright (ed) (2008) A Sociology of Health, Sage Publications: London.
2. ‘The Rules of Fear’ in Kate Hebblethwaite & Elizabeth McCarthy (2007) (eds) Fear: Essays on the Meaning and Experience of Fear, Four Courts Press Dublin, pp.18-30.
3. ‘The Changing Meaning of Disaster’, Area; Journal of the Royal Geographic Society, vol.39, no.4
4. ‘Do Academics Still Think’ in DeBurgh, H., Fazackerly, A, Black, J (eds) (2007) in Can The Prizes Still Glitter?, University of Buckingham Press: Buckingham
5. ‘Coping With Adversity: The Turn to the Rhetoric of Vulnerability’, Security Journal, April 2007.
6. ‘From the narrative of the Blitz to the rhetoric of vulnerability’, Cultural Sociology, Volume 1, Number 2 (July 2007).
7. ‘The End of Professional Dominance’, Society, vol.43, no.6, 2006
8. ‘The Legacy of Humanism’ in Cummings, D. (2006) (ed) Debating Humanism, Imprint Academic: Exeter.
9. ‘New Dimensions of a Market in Fear’ in Havidan, R, Quarantelli, E, Dynes, R. (2006) (eds) Handbook of Disaster Research, Springer: New York.
10. ‘Terrorism and the politics of fear’, chapter 15 in Hale, C., Hayward, K, Wadhini, A, Wincup,E. (eds) Criminology, Oxford University
11. Reflections on the Medicalisation of Social Experience’, British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, vol. 3, no.2, August 2004, pp.413-415
12. ‘Introduction to some uncomfortable realities’. Foreword to Todd, M.J. & Taylor, G. (eds) (2004) Democracy and Participation; Popular Protest and New Social Movements, Merlin Press: London
13. ‘The formalisation of relationships in education’, in Dennis Haynes (2004) (ed) The Routledge Falmer Guide to Key Debates in Education, RoutledgeFalmer: London.
14. ‘Promiscuity of Choice’, Society, vol. 41, no.4, 2004.
15. ‘Always On, Changing Britain’ in Always on, Changing Britain, European Media Forum, 2004. (A sociological analysis of the role of broadband).
16. ‘Crossing The Boundary: The Marginal Man’ in Jayne O. Ifekwunigwe (2004) (ed.) ‘Mixed Race’ Studies: A Reader, Routledge: London.
17. ‘The Downsizing of Intellectual Authority’. Critical Review of International and Political Philosophy, vol.6, no.4, 2003
18. ‘Creating Fear: News and the Construction of Crisis’. Book review in the American Journal of Sociology, September 2002.
19. ‘Drug Control and the Ascendancy of Britain’s Therapeutic Culture’ in Nolan, J. (ed.) Drug Courts In Theory And In Practice, Aldine De Gruyter, 2002.
20. Refusing to be Terrorised; Managing Risk After September 11th, Global Futures Report, 2002.
21. ‘The Silent Ascendancy of Therapeutic Culture in Britain’, Society, vol. 39, no.3, March/April 2002.
22. ‘The Social Construction of the British Bullying Epidemic’ in J. Best (ed.) Cross-National Diffusion of Social Problems Claims, Aldine de Gruyter, 2001.
23. ‘Sociological Perceptions of Race Mixing’ in Parker, D. and Song, M. (eds.) Rethinking ‘Race Mixing’, Pluto Press, 2001.
24. ‘Reproductive Health of Population Policy?’ in Kelleher, C. and Edmondson, R. (eds.) Health Promotion: Multi-Discipline or New Discipline?, Irish Academic Press, 2000.
25. ‘Diseasing the Workplace’, Journal of Occupational Health Review, November 1999.
26. ‘Complaining Britain’, Society, June 1999.
27. ‘The demobilized African soldier and the blow to white prestige’ in Killingray, D. Omissi (eds.), Guardians of Empire, Manchester University Press.
28. ‘The New Etiquette’ in C. Levitt, S. Davies, N. McLaughlin (eds.), Mistaken Identities: the Second Wave of Controversy over “Political Correctness”, Peter Lang.
29. Courting Mistrust: The hidden growth of a culture of litigation in Britain, Centre for Policy Studies, 1999.
30. ‘A Sociology of Health Panics’ in Mooney, L. and Bate, R. (eds.) Environmental Health: Third World Problems - First World Preoccupations, Butterworth-Heinemann, 1999
31. ‘Risk and Risk Society - exchange between Ulrich Beck and Frank Furedi’, Prometheus, no.1, Winter 1999.
32. Rowland, S., Byron, C., Furedi, F., Padfield. N & Smyth, T. ‘Turning Academics into Teachers’, Teaching in Higher Education, vol.3, no.2 June 1998.
33. ‘Alvin Toffler’, in M. Warner (ed.) The IEBM Handbook of Management Thinking (The International Encyclopaedia of Business and Management), International Thomson Press, 1998.
34. ‘New Britain - A Nation of Victims’, Society, February 1998
35. ‘The Dangers of Safety’ in S. Elworthy, J. Holder (eds.), Environmental Protection: Texts and Materials, Butterworths.
36. ‘Futurology’ in M. Warner, (ed.) The Concise International Encyclopaedia of Business and Management, International Thomson Press, 1997
37. ‘The Moral Condemnation of the South’ in C. Thomas (ed.) New Perspectives on International Relations, Macmillan 1997.
38. The International Impact of a Pill Panic, BCT, 1996.
39. `Futurology’, in International Encyclopaedia of Business and Management, vol.2, Thomson Business Press, 1996.
40. ‘The Enthronement of Low Expectations: Fukuyama’s Ideological Compromise for Our Time’ in C. Bertram and A. Chitty (eds.) Has History Ended? Fukuyama, Marx, Modernity, Avebury, 1994.
41. ‘Creating a Breathing Space: The Political Management of Colonial Emergencies’, The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, vol.21, no.3, September 1993. (Republished in R. Holland (ed.) Emergencies and Disorder in the European Empires After 1945, Frank Cass, 1994.)
42. ‘Decolonisation Through Counterinsurgency’ in A. Gorst and S. Lucas (eds.) Themes in Contemporary History, Francis Pinter, 1991.
43. ‘Britain’s Colonial Wars: Playing the Ethnic Card’, The Journal of Commonwealth Politics, 1990
44. ‘Britain’s Colonial Emergencies and the Invisible Nationalists’, Journal of Historical Sociology, vol.2, no3, 1989.