Eklundh, Emmy, Andreja Zevnik, and Emmanuel-Pierre Guittet, eds, Politics of Anxiety. London: Rowman and Littlefield, 2017.
Book Review by Jessica Auchter
Politics of Anxiety, edited by Emmy Eklundh, Andreja Zevnik, and Emmanuel-Pierre Guittet, is arguably one of the better applications of Lacan in the field of International Relations (IR), following on engagement with Lacan by various scholars who have sought to introduce his work to the IR discipline (Epstein 2011, Solomon 2015, Tomsic and Zevnik, eds, 2016). As a volume, it is well-anchored in its engagement with Lacan, seeking specifically to rethink existing discussions around the topic of anxiety. The editors argue that most discussions of increased anxiety in our world tend to rely on either economic explanations that blame capitalist crises; or on problems relating to economic inequality; or on political explanations that argue security risks have actually increased. Hoping to move beyond these sorts of arguments, they instead frame anxiety via two key logics that structure the contributions of the volume. First, a security logic that involves an anxiety that paralyzes the subject. Second, a resistance logic that mobilizes and liberates subjects by positing alternative futures and governing practices.
… As a volume, it is well-anchored in its engagement with Lacan, seeking specifically to rethink existing discussions around the topic of anxiety…
Anxiety itself is theorized as an affective notion where the object of anxiety is elusive yet nevertheless poses a threat to the ego. J. Peter Burgess’s theoretical framing chapter offers an excellent genealogy of concepts in Freud and Lacan, and posits anxiety as affective, and substantively different than the emotions it provokes. This chapter in particular, and the volume as a whole, offers insights that will be of interest to scholars of affect and emotion. However, there is a missed opportunity to distinguish between fear and anxiety especially since Freud is quoted as referencing both castration anxiety and fear of castration, implying a difference between the two.
Henrique Tavares Furtado’s chapter is the stand-out one because it offers a succinct theorization of anxiety, its contemporary manifestations, and how it relates to other concepts recently in vogue in IR, such as trauma. He argues that in ‘trauma talk’ violence is posited as essentially incomprehensible, which is similar to the way anxiety lacks an object of reference and raises the dilemma of unrepresentability. That is, both trauma and anxiety rely on psychoanalytic ideas that depict events as lacking in original meaning. There are also some interesting connections between Furtado’s notion of trauma as disrupting linear time and Norma Rossi’s chapter. In it, Rossi describes the temporal dimension of anxiety as a triple temporality where the present is a result of the interweaving of the past and future. Further, by drawing on a historical explanation related to the violence of the last two centuries and its specific qualities, Furtado’s chapter also provides the strongest justification in the book for why a psychoanalytic framework is necessary for examining anxiety.
The volume also brings together the concepts of security and resilience in the discussion of risk management, as in Mark Neoclous’s chapter on how the management of anxiety has become a way of mediating the demands of an endless security war. Neoclous focuses on the way resilience as a policy relies on an anxious political psyche that is always prepared for the coming attack. Through an examination of European counter-terrorism strategies, the chapter by Guittet and Fabienne Brion also articulates how security is increasingly defined as risk management. Similarly, Carsten Baran’s chapter addresses risk management related to corporate resilience during flu outbreaks in Germany.
Much of the latter part of the book focuses specifically on the economic components of anxiety in the context of neo-liberalism. Japhy Wilson’s chapter is an excellent analysis of neoliberalism as an obsessive neurosis and anxious social fantasy that structures reality against the traumatic proximity of the Real of Capital, which is most directly confronted in moments of economic crisis. Rossi similarly argues that neo-liberals claim that they act as responsible mediators between economic anxieties and authoritarian economic and political solutions proposed by the far right. In doing so, Rossi demonstrates how far right actors enter into a relation of mutual constitution with neoliberal politics.
… the volume could have used greater theoretical attention to the subtle, but important, distinctions between fear and anxiety…
Throughout the volume there is some blurring of fear and anxiety, as well as of emotions and affect, making some of the chapters more limited in their contributions. And while each of the chapters still works well in its own right, they do not always fit together within the larger remit of the volume. Paolo Cossarini’s chapter on emotions and austerity protests in Europe is a focus on emotions rather than on anxiety-as-affect, and thus anxiety plays a more implicit role that seems less connected to the anchoring chapters of the volume. Similarly, Rossi’s chapter, while an interesting discussion of far-right parties in Europe, seems to be focused more on fear because there is an object, as opposed to the way anxiety has been defined earlier in the volume as existing without one. Baran’s chapter also seems to be focused on fear rather than anxiety. If anxiety does not have an object, then how can a risk assessment designed precisely to measure the possibility of an event occurring come to invoke anxiety? Or does it actually invoke fear? Unanswered questions like these suggest that the volume could have used greater theoretical attention to the subtle, but important, distinctions between fear and anxiety.
The book raises a host of interesting questions that can be taken up by future scholarship, such as: What is the relationship between anxiety and the related concepts of fear, trauma, suspicion, risk, and terror? If anxiety is affective, what emotions does it trigger and how do those manifest? What political logics does anxiety itself allow for? Are there limitations to a psychoanalytical approach to anxiety? What are the implications of depicting anxiety as a neurological/ psychological issue rather than as an embodied or material one? How is anxiety embodied in contemporary global politics? To what extent is anxiety a novel contemporary phenomenon, or simply a modern manifestation of logics and dynamics persistent throughout history?
Finally, Michael Dillon’s concluding chapter is a musing on modern sovereignty that takes as its starting point the same questions that motivate the other authors. Dillon’s chapter is a good one, and very much in the spirit of a volume that raises more questions than it answers. In that same vein however, it is less effective as a concluding chapter and those readers looking for a final word that can somehow tie together the various disparate ideas of the volume may be left dissatisfied.
Epstein, Charlotte, ‘Who Speaks? Discourse, the subject, and the study of identity in international politics,’ European Journal of International Relations, 17, 2, 2011, 327-350.
Solomon, Ty, The Politics of Subjectivity in American Foreign Policy Discourses. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2015.
Tomsic, Samo, and Andreja Zevnik, eds, Jacques Lacan: Between Psychoanalysis and Politics. London: Routledge, 2016.