Fear and retrotopia – Critical reflections on the rise of defensive emotions in liquid modernity

Michael Hviid Jacobsen


This article critically addresses the contemporary study of what is called 'defensive emotions' such as fear and nostalgia among a number of social theorists. While it may be true that the collective emotions of fear and nostalgia (here framed by the phrase of 'retrotopia') may indeed be on the rise in Western liberal democracies, it is also important to be wary of taking the literature on the matter as a sign that fear and nostalgia actually permeate all levels of culture and everyday life. The article starts out with some reflections on the sociology of emotions and shows how the early interest in emotions (theoretical and empirical) among a small group of sociologists is today supplemented with the rise of a critical social theory using collective emotions as a lens for conducting a critical analysis of the times. Then the article in turn deals with the contemporary interest within varuious quarters of the social sciences with describing, analysing and diagnosing the rise of what is here called 'defensive emotions' – emotions that express and symbolize a society under attack and emotions that are mostly interpreted as negative signs of the times. This is followed by some reflections on the collective emotions of fear and nostalgia/retrotopia respectively. The article is concluded with a discussion of how we may understand and assess this relatively new interest in defensive emotions.

Słowa kluczowe: Defensive emotions, sociology of emotions, fear, nostalgia, retrotopia

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