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Hirner, Kyrill (2019): Fear and Awe: Social Construction of Fear in Detroit. Studien aus dem Münchner Institut für Ethnologie / Working Papers in Social and Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 26. München: Institut für Ethnologie, LMU München. [PDF, 9MB]

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Detroit, or at least the discourse about Detroit, is guided by two prime narratives: hope for change, and fear of crime. After decades of economic decline and racial segregation, the crime rate is amongst the highest of all US cities. However, fear is not a „rational“ result of an abstract crime rate. And neither is it an „emotional cloud“ hovering about the city, distributing evenly the shadow it casts. It is fragmented and uneven, just like the discourses that shape it. This study follows the different lines guiding discourses of fear both within and about Detroit: The idea of ‚wilderness taking back the city‘ and the implications of ‚wilderness‘ in a US context. The symbolic meaning Detroit has for the production of national identity, and the travesty it is said to have become. The fear of the Other, the urban poor, black, violent, drug addicted, irrational, hobbesian, roaming the street of this City abandoned by everybody (everybody but the Other's bodies, that is). Like the fear they produce, explain, and reproduce in the very process of explaining, these narratives are not shared by all. Rather, which narrative has to be used to interpret a specific incident is usually up to fierce debate. What is feared by some may be reassuring to others – or it is not even realized, since the opposite of being scared is not feeling safe, but not to think about one‘s personal safety at all.

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