The politics of fear in the making of worlds.

Ahmed, Sara (2003) The politics of fear in the making of worlds. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 16 (3). pp. 377-398. ISSN 1366-5898

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This paper revisits "the Mench controversy" by examining the relationship between "truth", politics and fear in the "making of the worlds." The author argue that "Mench controversy" can teach us a lot about how "truth" involves a politics of containment whereby "others" are contained by the judgment that they have failed the truth at the very moment that they challenge how some "truths" are given or become givens. Such judgments are not simply about reading the testimonios of others as "perjured", but also work to construct others as fearsome and threatening, such that the defence of truth becomes "a matter of life and death." To explore the role of fear in containing others, the author offers a reading of the Mench controversy alongside the reception given to Sunera Thobani's speech in which she criticizes the United States' "war on terrorism." She shows how Thobani's speech is constructed as an act of terror because it calls into question the very "truths" that have justified the war, by showing that they rely on an ontological distinction between legitimate and illegitimate violence. The paper relates both the Mench and Thobani cases to broader discourses of fear and anxiety that have circulated since September 11 2001 and argues that fear works to secure "truths" precisely through the narration of crisis or insecurity. Rather than considering fear as coming from within a subject, or as a characteristic of an object, the author suggests that fear works to effect the very boundaries between subjects and others, partly through the feeling that such boundaries have already been threatened by the presence of others. She also shows how fear operates as an affective economy of truth: fear slides between signs and sticks to bodies by constituting them as its objects. In making this argument, she shows how fear sticks to some bodies and not others. For example, the judgment that somebody "could be" a terrorist draws on past and affective associations that stick various signs (such as Muslim, fundamentalist, terrorist) together. At the same time, fear is reproduced precisely by the threat that such bodies "may pass (us) by." Such bodies become constructed as fearsome and as a threat to the very truths that are reified as "life itself." This paper hence shows how truth becomes an affective technique of containment in which the failure to contain is the justification of containment. The author concludes that if truth is a matter of containers and containment - about who or what gets contained to allow certain worlds to become given - then the risk taken by subaltern women, such as Rigoberta Mench and Sunera Thobani, in speaking out against such truths is the risk of making an-other kind of world.

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Journal Article
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International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education
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06 Mar 2009 09:16
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21 Sep 2023 00:45