Urban fears (16th-21rst centuries). An interdisciplinary conference, University Bordeaux-Montaigne, Pessac (France), 24-25 September, 2020.

philippe chassaigne's picture
Call for Papers
September 24, 2020 to September 25, 2020
Subject Fields: 
Cultural History / Studies, Environmental History / Studies, Literature, Urban History / Studies, Women's & Gender History / Studies

            If we take a classic dictionary definition, « fear » is an « emotion of pain or uneasiness caused by the sense of impending danger, and a state of anxiety derived from the concern for the safety of a person or thing » (Shorter Oxford English Dictionary). « Urban fears » could then be defined as acute negative emotions shared by a substantial number of urban dwellers about events happening or likely to happen in the city they live in. This notion is far from being new, but it deserves to be envisaged from more varied angles than it has hitherto been.

            Until the early 2000s, the question of « urban fears » was most certainly related to urban crime, urban riots, in pace with the rising wave of crime statistics, The 2001 issue of Urban Studies was devoted to « Fear and the City », and all the articles in this issue dealt with crime and the fear of crime. And, obviously, it is still something to take into consideration nowadays. But more events have shown that the fear of crime was not the alpha and the omega of « urban fears ». The islamist 9/11 attacks have inducted terrorist attacks in the urban fears Hall of Fame ; in 1995, the deadly sarin gas attacks of cult Aum Shinrikyo in Tokyo underground, how tragic it was, could be thought of as a one off accident ; but after 9/11, numerous other attacks took place, in Moscow, St Petersburg, Madrid, London, Westgate, Brussels, Paris, Nice, Tunis… and also in smaller towns such as Trèbes and Carcassonne in France in 2018.

            Urban riots have become a new concern, with more causes than just « race » issues : G7/8/20/30 or World Trade Organization summits have witnessed street fights scenes, trade unions or unsorganised pressure groups (such as the French « yellow vests ») may nurture a climate of violence and fear to reach their aims. Natural catastrophes, weather change, epidemics, food scares, however irrational, are right just in our panel. So are irrational fears, rumours and « urban legends » (« the Demon Baber of Fleet Street » in Victorian London, sewer alligators in contemporary New York, sex thieves in West African cities), or anticipated fears such as the « Big One » earthquake in California.

            This Conference builds upon the recent « emotional » approach to city life, or, rather, a study of the emotions of city inhabitants, in the wake of Glifford Geertz’s assumption that « 'not only ideas, but emotions too, are cultural artefacts in man » (The Interpretation of Cultures, 1975), or Joanna Bourke in her groundbreaking even if much discussed book Fear (2005). However, it is not limited to urban historians. Papers may come Cultural Studies, Sociology, Material Culture Studies, Architecture and Art Historian Science, Media Studies, Literature.

            Possible topics include, but are not limited to :

  • The roots of fear : what events have triggered « urban fears » across space and time ;
  • How is the feeling of « fear » perceived in various geographical spaces (especially non-European ones ?) ;
  • The links between fears and urban space(s) ;
  • Living with fear in an urban setting ; the way(s) it is expressed ; the way(s) it is perceived ;
  • Gender and urban fears, especially in the context of more attention being given to street harassment against women and minorities ;
  • The answers to urban fears : Joanna Bourke has shown how « fear » could be instrumentalized to justify a limitation of public liberties, or a disregard of certain core principals of international law. However security response has only been one among many over time, along with sanitary measures, religious intiatives, etc.

Notifications will be made by 15 November, 2019.

The organizers will be able to cover most of travel/accomodation costs ; however, due to current funding shortages in French universities, participants are requested whenever possible to try and get some funding from their institution.

A Registration form will be sent after 15 November.

Contact Info: 

Proposals (300 words + short CV) should be submitted before 15 October, 2019. They should be sent simultaneously to the three organizers :

Prof. Philippe Chassaigne, FRHistS, philchassaigne@gmail.com

Adèle Delaporte, MA, adele.delaporte@gmail.com

Dr. Caroline Le Mao carolinelemao@yahoo.com