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Risk and panic in late modernity: implications of the converging sites of social anxiety

The British Journal of Sociology
Volume 54 No 1 March 2003
pages 3-20

Abstract

Comparing moral panic with the potential catastrophes of the risk society, Sheldon Ungar contends that new sites of social anxiety emerging around nuclear, medical, environmental and chemical threats have thrown into relief many of the questions motivating moral panic research agendas. He argues that shifting sites of social anxiety necessitate a rethinking of theoretical, methodological and conceptual issues related to processes of social control, claims making and general perceptions of public safety. This paper charts an alternative trajectory, asserting that analytic priority rests not with an understanding of the implications of changing but converging sites of social anxiety. Concentrating on the converging sites of social anxiety in late modernity, the analysis forecasts a proliferation of moral panics as an exaggerated symptom of the heightened sense of uncertainty purported to accompany the ascendency of the risk society.

Keywords: Risk society, moral panic, social anxiety, reflexivity, uncertainty, counter-modernity

Sean P Hier
Department of Sociology, Queen's University, Canada

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