Culture of fear

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For the Thievery Corporation album, see Culture of Fear.

Culture of fear (or climate of fear) is a term used by some scholars, writers, journalists and politicians who believe that some in society incite fear in the general public to achieve political goals.[1] It is also a term applied to the workplace.

In the workplace[edit]

Ashforth discussed potentially destructive sides of leadership and identified what he referred to as petty tyrants, i.e., leaders who exercise a tyrannical style of management, resulting in a climate of fear in the workplace.[2] Partial or intermittent negative reinforcement can create an effective climate of fear and doubt.[3] When employees get the sense that bullies “get away with it”, a climate of fear may be the result.[4] Several studies have confirmed a relationship between bullying, on the one hand, and an autocratic leadership and an authoritarian way of settling conflicts or dealing with disagreements, on the other. An authoritarian style of leadership may create a climate of fear, where there is little or no room for dialogue and where complaining may be considered futile.[5]

In a study of public-sector union members, approximately one in five workers reported having considered leaving the workplace as a result of witnessing bullying taking place. Rayner explained these figures by pointing to the presence of a climate of fear in which employees considered reporting to be unsafe, where bullies had “got away with it” previously despite management knowing of the presence of bullying.[4]

In politics[edit]

Former US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski argues that the use of the term War on Terror was intended to generate a culture of fear deliberately because it "obscures reason, intensifies emotions and makes it easier for demagogic politicians to mobilize the public on behalf of the policies they want to pursue".[6][7]

Frank Furedi, a former professor of Sociology and writer for Spiked magazine, says that today's culture of fear did not begin with the collapse of the World Trade Center. Long before September 11, he argues, public panics were widespread – on everything from GM crops to mobile phones, from global warming to foot-and-mouth disease. Like Durodié, Furedi argues that perceptions of risk, ideas about safety and controversies over health, the environment and technology have little to do with science or empirical evidence. Rather, they are shaped by cultural assumptions about human vulnerability. Furedi say that "we need a grown-up discussion about our post-September 11 world, based on a reasoned evaluation of all the available evidence rather than on irrational fears for the future.[8]

British academics Gabe Mythen and Sandra Walklate, argue that following terrorist attacks in New York, the Pentagon, Madrid, and London, government agencies developed a discourse of "new terrorism" in a cultural climate of fear and uncertainty. UK researchers argued that this processes reduced notion of public safety and created the simplistic image of a non-white "terroristic other" that has negative consequences for ethnic minority groups in the UK.[9]


Sorted upwards by date, most recent last.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Klaehn, Jeffery (2005). Filtering the news: essays on Herman and Chomsky's propaganda model. Black Rose Books. pp. 23–24. 
  2. ^ Petty tyranny in organizations , Ashforth, Blake, Human Relations, Vol. 47, No. 7, 755-778 (1994)
  3. ^ Braiker, Harriet B. (2004). Who's Pulling Your Strings ? How to Break The Cycle of Manipulation. ISBN 0-07-144672-9. 
  4. ^ a b Helge H, Sheehan MJ, Cooper CL, Einarsen S “Organisational Effects of Workplace Bullying” in Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace: Developments in Theory, Research, and Practice (2010)
  5. ^ Salin D, Helge H “Organizational Causes of Workplace Bullying” in Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace: Developments in Theory, Research, and Practice (2010)
  6. ^ Post Store (March 25, 2007). "Terrorized by 'War on Terror' by Brzezinski". Retrieved 2010-11-23. 
  7. ^ Zbigniew Brzezinskiwhile the true nature of the threat can't be established: it can be less it can be worse. (March 25, 2007). "Terrorized by 'War on Terror' How a Three-Word Mantra Has Undermined America". Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-12-03. The "war on terror" has created a culture of fear in America.... 
  8. ^ Frank Furedi. "Epidemic of fear". Retrieved 2010-11-23. 
  9. ^ Communicating the terrorist risk: Harnessing a culture of fear? Gabe Mythen Manchester Metropolitan University, UK, Sandra Walklate University of Liverpool, UK

Further reading[edit]