Anxiety and social explanation: some anxieties about anxiety

Anxiety and social explanation: some anxieties about anxiety

Alan Hunt


Anxiety is invoked as an explanatory device in a wide variety of historical and sociological writing. The general form of such accounts is that the occurrence and timing of some social phenomena is explained by reference to the presence of some elevated state of anxiety which elicits social or political responses by an identifiable group of social agents. I will refer to this form of explanation as ‘anxiety theory.’ Anxiety analysis takes the general form of seeking to identify an underlying social anxiety or a combination of anxieties which can explain why some specific social response or social action occurred when and where it did. I place ‘anxiety theory’ in quotes to draw attention to the fact that those who employ this variety of explanatory strategy do not themselves use this label. There is no school of anxiety theorists. Yet it is my contention that it is a widely employed explanatory strategy, but that even its most polished and sophisticated exponents have not felt the need to explore its unspoken assumptions or to justify their reliance on it.

This essay explores some problematic aspects of this mode of explanation. It should be made clear at the outside that I neither want to condemn nor to recommend anxiety theory; as my sub-title suggests, I have some anxieties about such explanatory accounts.(1) will first establish the fact that anxiety theory is not only widely used, but that it is employed in diverse intellectual traditions which have contributed significantly over a wide range of inquiry. An attempt is made to demarcate some distinction between anxiety and a number of close associates such as ‘worry’ and ‘fear.’ I have selected some of the strongest exemplars of anxiety analysis in order to explicate why it has proved such an attractive mode of explanation in social and historical studies. I use these exemplary cases to tease out their inherently problematic features. Finally I address the implications of my problematization of anxiety theory; since I wish neither to condemn or to praise this style of scholarship I suggest some protocols that should be taken into account when use is made of anxiety theory.

Anxiety is a psychic condition of heightened sensitivity to some perceived threat, risk, peril or danger. A distinction between anxiety and fear seems both possible and attractive, but is not ultimately sustainable. One possibility is to define fear as a realistic anxiety, an immediate response to risk or danger, and anxiety as a generalized non-immediate apprehension. To illustrate, I am more apprehensive when starting a journey by plane than I am when commencing a car journey even though I know that all the statistics show that planes are significantly safer than cars. Do I fear air-travel or is it an anxiety? This line of inquiry is, I suggest, unhelpful because it requires an all too early normative judgment to distinguish between ‘reasonable fear’ and ‘neurotic anxiety.’ If people are concerned about the dangers of nuclear war or environmental degradation we only reveal our own normative position if we label such responses ‘fears’ or ‘anxieties.’

It may be more promising to distinguish between individual anxiety and social anxiety. An individual anxiety has no social significance unless it is a shared or social anxiety and, additionally, it results in some discernible action by significant numbers. If I and others cancel vacations in Egypt because of fear of attacks by ‘fundamentalists’ this shared anxiety has social and economic consequences. Note that I avoid making any judgment about whether such apprehensions or fears are justified. It is sufficient to pose the question of whether or not the existence of a social anxiety can explain some observed social phenomenon.

However, it is important to insist that the most interesting situations are those where the shared anxiety does not appear to be a response to an immediate apprehension of harm. Interesting here means something like, those situations that are the most challenging to explain. A classic problem of this nature which continues to attract interest and scholarly endeavor is that of witchcraft. Why was it that in widely different circumstances people accused (predominantly) women within their communities of being witches and put them to death in large numbers? Many, if not all, of the answers that have been provided are species of anxiety analysis epitomized in Kai Erikson’s account of the Salem witch trials as responses to intense social anxieties.(2)

The incidence of studies that attribute some casual significance to anxiety is extensive. There seems little to be gained from a simple exercise of enumeration.(3) Instead I will offer a brief summary of the dispersed fields within which anxiety theory manifests itself; some of these instances receive more detailed attention in what follows.

It is not surprising that Freudian social theory should make use of the concept of anxiety given the stress Freud placed on the internalization of anxiety representing a substitute for an external danger that is not recognised.(4) This tradition is exemplified in Peter Gay’s engagement with sexuality in Victorian England in which he identifies a distinctive “bourgeois anxiety” that was a response to contemporary social changes.(5) Some similarities are shared with Niebuhr’s path-breaking contribution to the sociology of religion. Anxiety plays a central role in his account of religious belief. Every human act, creative or destructive, involves an anxiety whose source stems from human finiteness and freedom. Anxiety is the inevitable concomitant of the paradox of freedom and finiteness.(6)

Perhaps less anticipated is the presence of anxiety in Parsonian structural functionalism; while evident in Parsons’ own analysis of the role of the sick patient, it is more strikingly evident in Smelser’s account of collective action in which the build-up of anxieties expresses itself in political action typified by fascist and other populist mobilizations.(7) Such analyses which link anxiety and irrational political action were common during the Cold War period.(8) From a different political tradition anxiety was invoked by Franz Neumann in his attempt to understand the impact of German fascism.(9) Closely related traditions identify anxieties that reveal the experience of powerlessness, helplessness and social disintegration as manifesting apprehension in the face of social change and a generalized fear of modernity.(10) To this strand should be added works stressing the role of anxiety in constituting troubled concerns about the self and identity (nervousness, narcissism, anomie, etc.) that are viewed as distinctive of modernity.(11)

A different path that invokes versions of anxiety analyses are present in the anthropological tradition. Malinowski’s distinction between science and magic places much emphasis on magic as a response to anxiety.(12) Douglas’s study of taboos views them as responses to persistent anxieties about the securing of social boundaries.(13) In similar guise in studies of millenarian movements Worsley, Festinger, and others view them as reactions to conditions of social anxiety.(14)

Anxiety analysis plays a significant role in a surprising number of substantive fields of inquiry. It is especially evident in work that seeks to understand moral panics where some anxiety is amplified so that it manifests itself in some outburst or panic.(15) Similar modes of analysis have been influential in accounts of projects of moral regulation.(16) Closely related are ‘status anxiety’ accounts of social movements of which Joseph Gusfield’s analysis of the American temperance movement remains a landmark.(17) This tradition in its turn is the successor to an older line of inquiry that explains irrational social action in terms of ‘ressentiment’.(18) The affiliations with status anxiety accounts are strong in that it is the lower middle class, the petty bourgeoisie, that is forever squeezed between the big battalions of capital and labor. These variant traditions come together in Pierre Bourdieu’s analysis that “resentment is clearly the basis of the reactionary or conservative-revolutionary stances of the declining petty bourgeoisie who are anxious to maintain order on all fronts, in domestic morality and in society, and who invest the revolt against the worsening of their social position in moral indignation against the worsening of morals.”(19)

A currently influential body of work makes use of the idea of gender anxiety; concerns about changing gender relations express themselves in projects that reveal male anxieties and fear of women or are concerned to preserve a mythic natural gender order; this strand is particularly evident in modern feminist social history.(20) Gender anxieties are invoked in interesting attempts to account for the periodic eruption of concerns about prostitution.(21)

Diverse traditions of social history advance explanatory accounts which draw attention to the part played by persistent fear of the masses in stimulating regulatory or coercive political projects. Thus, Hirschman invokes differential responses to the presence of turbulent masses to account for the strategies of the political Right.(22) Many studies rely on anxieties induced by the perceived turbulence of vagrants, the poor or the working classes.(23) In a similar vein much social history explains a variety of political projects in terms anxieties about immigrants and other stigmatized social groups.(24)

These indications of the prevalence of traditions of scholarship which deploy notions of social anxieties and the responses thereto makes no claim to be exhaustive; it serves its purpose if the reader recognizes the presence of this explanatory device. It is significant that in not one of the studies cited is there any elaborated treatment of social anxiety or the nature of the explanatory strategy involved. Anxiety is a submerged middle term in socio-historical thought, widely present but rarely acknowledged and never raised to the status of a concept deserving of extended consideration. This essay seeks to redress this neglect.


In order to explore the theoretical substance of anxiety analyses I will examine two examples in order to set out their general form. Having clarified the general features of such accounts I will indicate the attractions of the analyses before exploring some potential weaknesses. I have selected one sociological and one historical example in order to draw attention to the fact that this mode of analysis is found in both intellectual traditions. The examples selected are ones that I judge to be strong and intuitively attractive.

The first example is a powerful and impressive piece of modern sociological work. Stuart Hall and his colleagues from the Birmingham school of cultural studies addressed the question of how to explain the outbreak of major public concern that erupted in England in the early 1970s over ‘mugging,’ typically conceived as street attacks committed by young black males on elderly citizens.(25) Street crime was not new; pick-pockets, bag-snatching and violent assaults in public places have a long history and had even achieved a certain romantic status through the pen of Charles Dickens. Why was it then that a series of prosecutions of some particularly violent assaults that occurred in 1971 and 1972 resulted in such heavy media attention, exceptionally severe judicial sanctions, and widespread public anger?

The mugging panic was explained in terms of a set of anxieties current in British society at the time. The analysis focused attention on what the authors describe as the mechanisms of ‘convergence.’

Convergence occurs when two or more activities are linked in the process of signification so as to implicitly or explicitly draw parallels between them.(26)

Where convergence between two or more social elements occurs the possibility is created for a process of amplification in which the significance of the threat or danger is increased or enhanced with the result that:

One kind of threat or challenge to society seems larger, more menacing, if it can be mapped together with other apparently similar phenomena…. As issues and groups are projected across the thresholds, it becomes easier to mount legitimate campaigns of control against them.(27)

The amplification engendered around mugging resulted in a dispersed set of anxieties ‘coming together.”Race’ became a major theme through which authoritarian responses to issues of social order were articulated. Race figured in the political vernacular since the muggings were committed, or were presented as being committed, by black males. Race also became associated with ‘youth’ since the offenders tended to be young teenage males while their victims were elderly. ‘Race’ and ‘youth’ thus became articulated with a generalized discourse of ‘law-and-order’ focused on anxiety about the lack of safety in inner-city areas. Race, youth and law-and-order were then linked to a pervasive sense of ‘anti-permissiveness’, that something had ‘gone wrong’ with British society in that things ‘weren’t like they used to be.’ Note here a common feature of social anxiety with the invocation of an assumption of a preexisting ‘golden age’ or, more modestly, of a prior period of stability.

The central argument advanced by Hall and his colleagues was that the mugging crisis spoke to a range of concerns, problems and anxieties that were not necessarily visible on the ‘surface’ of the specific incidents. The main anxieties (of race, youth, law-and-order) were in turn linked to a deeper layer of issues imbricated within British society. First, parent-children relations; parents no longer seemed to want to or to be able to control their teenage sons. Closely linked were wider changes in inter-generational relations; young people were perceived as no longer having respect for the elderly. Thus the specific incidents summoned up wider questions about shifts in authority relations (parental and generational). Second, the attacks spoke to concerns about changing, disrupted or fragmented communities (“It’s no longer safe on the streets”), and of an end of neighborliness (“We never used to have to lock our doors”) made visible by the unmistakable presence of diverse cultures. Third, demographic changes in the inner-cities once bastions of a more or less cohesive white working-class were presented as having reduced ‘community’ and to have generated sites of ‘danger.’ In addition, the transformation of the inner cities was perceived as bringing together ‘black immigrants’ with remnants of the traditional white working-class and to be sites of encounter between ‘us’ and ‘them.’

Finally Hall pointed to an accentuated concern with ‘violence’; a sensitization to a new terrain of crisis that drew on a plethora of themes spanning a heightened industrial militancy, Northern Ireland, the Vietnam War, and international terrorism. This concatenation of race, youth, inner city and violence was something more than ‘symbol;’ rather it was an embodiment or ‘representation’ of structural problems that the specific ‘muggings’ threw into the terrain of social and political discourse, and which was to have specific political outcomes that Hall would subsequently call authoritarian populism’.(28)

My second example is an important work of historical sociology. It is Peter Gay’s extended exploration of Victorian sexuality. Within an explicitly Freudian orientation he seeks to understand the Victorians through the anxieties which beset them. He identifies a distinctive form of ‘bourgeois anxiety’ which was not simply a fear of specific enemies, but was a “diffuse and endemic” response to contemporary social changes.(29) This set of anxieties Gay describes in the following terms.

Around the middle of the nineteenth century, physicians and social observers discovered that simply being a bourgeois imposed a formidable strain on the species. Familiar distressing manifestations of private vice and social decay – ‘self-abuse’, birth control, and general immorality – were embedded in more sweeping anxiety-producing worries. The perpetual need of the middle classes to redefine and defend the domain of the private, to flaunt the emblems of respectability, to deserve and cope with success, and to regulate their commerce with deep, often unconscious feelings of love and hate, appeared to be extracting an inordinate psychological tribute, embodied in two quite diverse phenomena: nervousness and prostitution.(30)

In other words, the manifestations of Victorian bourgeois anxieties became focused on prostitution and female nervousness (neurasthenia).

For present purposes I am not concerned with the merits of either of my illustrative examples. Other accounts sharing features of my selected cases will undoubtedly come to mind for both historians and sociologists; their distinctive feature is that causal significance is attached to deep-seated anxieties within communities even though there is undoubtedly disagreement as to what those anxieties were and what they signified.


Anxiety accounts share a common general form. They explain socio-historical phenomena as responses to anxieties generated by social change. Such accounts rest on the assumption that ‘change’ is problematic, that it is experienced as disturbing and disrupting in social worlds that are known and familiar. But a note of caution is necessary; the thesis emerging, namely, that anxiety is a response to social change should not be read as a implying that anxiety is an exclusively conservative response, a resistance to or refusal of change. It is necessary to include those forms of anxiety with respect to which a positive normative judgment may be made; for example, anxieties generated by domestic violence or fear of communal conflict are contemporary manifestations. For this reason caution should be exercised about the popular concept of ‘moral panic’ since the term tends to imply that the anxiety involved is an over-reaction and thus unjustified. Thus, for example, campus concerns about sexual violence leading to the installation of emergency alarms require evaluation in terms of whether such measures increase security or instill a heightened sense of danger; until we know more about the complex issues involved we should be cautious about using the normatively laden notion of ‘panic’.

Anxiety as a reaction to change may involve a fear of change, but anxieties should not be equated with conservative or nostalgic responses. The analysis of anxiety and responses to it requires a methodological separation of the experiential forms of anxiety and the social conditions within which that anxiety is generated. For example, it is common today to encounter an enhanced experience of social risk or danger in circumstances in which objective measures of the incidence of the specific risk do not support the experiential reaction; current preoccupations about the sexual victimization of children are profound and significant experiential responses, yet occur in circumstances in which statistical measures do not unambiguously suggest an increase in the offending conduct.(31) The significance of grappling with anxiety as a social response requires the unpacking of such paradoxes and leads to the heart of attempts to uncover their meaning. Why do so many American parents today fear the sexual victimization of their children? Why did so many Canadians in the 1890s fear the seduction of their daughters and demand laws for their ‘protection’? Why has the concern provoked by prostitution varied so sharply over time? Such questions point to the potential of anxiety theory for interpreting these all too real experiences.

There is one significant absence in these studies; it is one that they share with the genre as a whole. There is no specific attention to the issue of levels of anxiety. If anxiety is a general feature of the human condition it is important to consider under what conditions anxieties manifest themselves in overt social action. Implicit in much of the work written under the sign of anxiety is a view that anxieties are like a boiling kettle which heats up over a period of time until, with only a small input of additional energy, it boils over. Although the question of the quantification of anxiety is not posed directly by Stuart Hall and his colleagues, their work comes closest to suggesting a more adequate response. Their concept of convergence suggests that anxieties only ‘boil over’ when a number of anxieties are concentrated together through amplification and provide the conditions for overt action.


Attention to the sociogenesis of anxiety offers the possibility of making sense of many puzzling questions. Anxiety analysis raises the prospect of penetrating beneath the phenomenal level of accounts provided by participants and of the discourses within which they are articulated. The theory holds out the possibility of uncovering some underlying trend or tendency which does not form part of the consciousnesses or discourses of the participants. The prospect is to be able to make sense of social issues which manifest themselves in persistent social tensions and anxieties that in turn generate forms of social action which emerge at specific historical conjunctures.

What is it that is attractive about this genre of socio-historical explanation? Its attraction lies in the possibility of social explanation that combines a hermeneutic dimension in that it takes account of the experiences, meanings and anxieties of actors, but at the same time offers the prospect of going beyond experience to some sense of what is ‘really going on,’ of causal mechanisms that are at work behind the consciousness of participants. The undoubted appeal of anxiety analysis is that it seems to offer the possibility of combining both hermeneutic and structural explanation.

The explanatory mechanism at work in anxiety theory provides a variant of structuralism. It points to the possibility of identifying some ‘deep’ cause that underlies the phenomenal form in which anxieties impact on social conduct so as to reveal mechanisms and connections not accessible to consciousness. Thus, for example, if we are concerned to understand why it was that prostitution, ‘the social evil’, was of such profound concern to the Victorian middle classes, this mode of analysis suggests the hypothesis that the anxiety about prostitution was generated by two profound and pervasive contemporary social changes. First, urbanization was associated with rapid demographic shifts associated with the arrival in urban areas of large numbers of unattached young men and women not subject to direct family or community surveillance. Second, profound changes were taking place in gender relations, at home and in work, in sexuality and reproduction. These two ‘deep’ social processes are mobilized by anxiety theory to provide a causal explanation for the selection of prostitution as the focus for preoccupation. Or to put the matter more bluntly, what was ‘really going on’ was a response to profound long-term social transformations which found expression in a specific and conjunctural anxiety about prostitution.

It is indisputable that sex and sexuality are potent sources of anxiety. This invites an inquiry as to why this should be the case. I will put aside the temptation to pursue this large issue in this essay and confine myself to two comments. One line of inquiry is opened up by Freud for whom sexual anxiety is part of the human condition on the simple ground that all humans are primitive and that sex is the exemplar of the primitive which underlies ‘civilized morality.’ Another potentially fruitful starting point is Foucault’s thesis that with the advent of modernity sexuality came to be perceived as holding out the ‘truth’ or ‘secret’ of every person. Yet he insists that the centrality of the discourses of sex does not arise “By reason of some natural property inherent in sex itself, but by virtue of the tactics of power immanent in this discourse.”(32) What is significant for my present concern is that contents of sexual anxieties differ across time, and specifically that concerns about such matters as prostitution and homosexuality vary over time.

Another dimension of anxiety theory, distinct from although often related to structuralism, is that of symbolism. In this genre the anxiety is analyzed as a symbolic expression of some more pervasive social process. For example, Gusfield’s account of the temperance movement in the United States offers a ‘status defence’ analysis emanating from a traditional rural, white and Anglo-Saxon middle class that was being displaced by urbanization and immigration.(33) Alcohol signified the contrast between two ways of life, on the one side nativist Protestant, and on the other, an urban, immigrant life-style. Not only did the non-temperance life-style challenge the other, but both the assumed life-style and the groups involved impugned its values and threatened to create conditions that could destabilize the nativist way of life.

One additional positive consequence of focusing on social anxieties is that it facilitates access to encounters over identities and the formation of selves. The multiple and complex images or representations through which social identities are perceived come into sharper focus when they become the center of concern that leads others to intervene to problematize and contest those identities. Thus not only are they components of projects for governing others, but they also provide potential access to practices involved in the governance of the self. Attention to social anxieties can provide openings into the fascinating interaction between governance of others and the governance of the self.

One common feature of social anxieties is that the immediate focus of concern often appears trivial and inconsequential. For example, we are familiar with the way in which some feature of popular culture may excite anger, consternation and demands for action which with hindsight seems to have been a ridiculous overreaction. For example, Turner provides a delightful descriptive account of resistance to various proposed law reforms in the nineteenth-century England that excited anxieties and predictions of disaster and the end of civilization as we know it. His catalogue includes the outlawing of man traps, Saturday half-day working, marriage to a deceased wife’s sister, and daylight saving; all of these excited impassioned opposition.(34) One further instance of an improbable target of anxiety is provided in the ‘white slave trade’ literature from the 1910s that adds the improbable image of the ice-cream parlor as a site of moral danger.(35) It is difficult today to imagine ice-cream parlors as places of danger. But it begins to make sense when we recall that their operation by Italians provided a link to nativist concerns about immigrants; and more significant is that they were sites of hetero-social conviviality. It is thus possible to detect deeper concerns underlying even the most improbable and transitory anxieties. More importantly the very triviality of such anxieties is itself significant in allowing a more deep-seated and unacknowledged anxiety to be activated without ever being directly named.

The attraction of interpretive strategies which seek out profound and long-run changes underlying the preoccupations and anxieties of conjunctural moments is that they provide access to the Holy Grail for both history and sociology, the elusive goal of ‘causality’ amidst the complexity and contingency of social life. Beyond the quest for causes, anxiety theory offers an added bonus that has already been encountered in the discussion of Stuart Hall’s treatment of mugging, namely, that anxiety analysis has the potential for revealing the way in which a set of otherwise unconnected issues converge such that it is only in their combination and interaction that they stimulate a level of social reaction that the individual concerns alone would not have generated. This interest in convergence and combination can be expressed in many different theoretical traditions. Hall, for example, used the study of mugging as an exemplar of the Althusserian account of ‘overdetermination’ as an escape from economic reductionism. More generally such analyses provide means of going beyond uni-directional models of causality in the quest for a means of grasping and making sense of the complexity of the social world.

Let me reiterate that I am not here concerned with defending any particular variant of anxiety analysis. Such accounts are intuitively attractive and have in many cases achieved the status of orthodoxy. It is sufficient if I have been able to demonstrate the source of their attraction – an attraction indeed so great that there are many examples of entirely unselfconscious and unreflective instances of the deployment of anxiety as socio-historical explanation. For example, in a entirely commendable analysis Connelly explains the American preoccupation with prostitution in the early twentieth century; he provides an exemplar of the anxiety thesis arguing that prostitution was

a master symbol, a code word, for a wide range of anxieties engendered by the great social and cultural changes that gave the progressive era its coherence as a distinct historical epoch.(36)

Note not only the link between anxiety and social change, but also the way in which anxieties are understood as condensing a variety of issues into the single focal point around prostitution.

Now that the case has been made for the appeal of anxiety accounts it is time to consider why it is necessary to have reservations about this form of social explanation.


V.(1) Penetrating Below the Surface

I turn now to consider problems associated with the use of anxiety theory. The concern will not only be to identify some significant difficulties, but to suggest possible solutions.

Anxiety analysis holds out the promise of revealing deep causal processes. Anxiety accounts partake of the allure of structuralism by offering access to a hidden or depth reality underlying the phenomenal manifestations of social life, but they also have to grapple with the paradox of structuralism. The paradox is that since we do not have a direct or independent access to this deep structure we have no immediately available means by which to validate the knowledge claims made. If what constitutes the evidence is not dependent on the consciousness of the participants, how are we to establish the causal link between cause and phenomenal manifestation? Let me again employ the example of prostitution which provides a classic case of a social issue which has exhibited waves of intensified anxiety along with periods of indifference. Assume that I wish to argue that anxiety about prostitution is ‘really about’ gender, that is, that variable phases of social anxiety can be explained as a reaction to changing gender relations. Assume further that nobody during the periods under study said anything like this, but that they insisted, for example, that prostitution was a moral evil caused by the decline in religious observation. What would count as ‘evidence’ to support my case?

In practice the picture is rarely so bleak. Most of the time I can proceed by employing well-tried empirical techniques. I can, for example, track the contemporary debate. I will probably find that in texts and speeches decrying the immorality of the period evidenced by the flagrant visibility of prostitution, I will also find comments and asides about the looseness of modern women or the failure of parents to instill ideals of sexual purity in their sons. So that although nobody ever says that they are concerned about prostitution because they are worried about the changing relations between the sexes, nevertheless I can draw inferential connections between anxieties present in the discourses even though that link is not explicitly made by the participants. Methodologically the search is for ‘traces’ that provide justification for the strong causal link that I seek to demonstrate.

Many readers will probably be satisfied by a demonstration of this type. However the matter is not often so simple. The reason that you may feel at ease with my account is that you and I share the view that changing gender relations are a significant structural dislocation of the period under discussion. We should however take note of Blumer’s warning against attributing the emergence of a social problem to some presumed structural strain or anxiety because to do so often evaded specifying the processes through which particular social problems actually emerge.(37)

I now consider a more difficult case than that of prostitution, namely, how are we to understand the preoccupation of the mid-Victorians middle classes on both sides of the Atlantic with masturbation. Let us assume that I wish to show that this passionate anxiety was ‘really’ about structural changes in inter-generational relations resulting from the prolonged period between childhood and economic and sexual independence among the middle classes.(38) I immediately notice that others advance a quite different explanation. For example, Vern Bullough, who has contributed much to our knowledge of sexuality in the United States, is convinced that the fear of masturbation was ‘really’ a fear of homosexuality.(39) Who is right? And more importantly, how are we judge between these conflicting accounts? Note that both claim the existence of a prevalent ‘anxiety.’ Let us assume that the method of tracking inferential connections fails us because all the anti-masturbation tracts do is to outbid each other with tales of the fearful consequences that befall the masturbator; the more restrained warn of teenage acne while the more extreme predict insanity and death.

All is not lost: it may be possible to settle the disagreement between Bullough and myself. One possibility remains; while there may be no internal inferential connections we may be able to pursue external inferential links. For example, if we examine contemporary advice manuals on child-rearing, aside from what they may or may not say about masturbation, they may proffer evidence of concern about either homosexuality or the prolonged period between puberty and marriage. While not perhaps conclusive I would certainly treat such evidence as weighing heavily one way or the other.

V.(2) From Individual Anxiety to Social Anxiety

One rather obvious difficulty confronts anxiety analysis. It is the problem of whether it is legitimate to apply the attributes of individuals to social aggregates. Can inferences be drawn from the anxiety experienced by individuals in order to propose that some collective response can be understood in terms of a shared social anxiety? While there are alternative ways of conceptualizing the anxiety experienced by individuals we may safely assert that individuals do experience anxiety. Anxiety is a response to situations of danger, whether real or imagined; it is a warning signal released at the appearance of danger (real or imagined) that permits the deployment of defenses (fight, flight, denial, etc.). Freud, for example, was concerned to distinguish defensive responses to situations of danger from neurotic manifestations. “Neurotic anxiety is anxiety in regard to a danger which we do not know”.(40)

This raises two problems. The first is whether we are justified in speaking of social or collective anxieties. And, if so, how are social anxieties related to individual anxieties? The second problem, to be pursued in the next section, arises from ‘hidden’ anxieties. If the source of a hidden anxiety is not know to or is misrecognized by those experiencing them, then how is the observer to identify the origin or roots of these anxieties?

The most straight-forward way of dealing with the relationship between individual and social anxieties is to assume that social anxieties are simply an aggregation of individual anxieties. If, for example, many people experience anxiety about the safety of their children, then a collective anxiety about child safety is born. While this simple mechanism of aggregation undoubtedly plays some part, it cannot provide the whole explanation. Most important is the need to recognize that an anxiety has a social existence; the fact that others experience and articulate their individual anxieties plays a crucial part in the formation of social anxieties.(41) For example, there are many reasons why parents may be fearful for their children’s safety, but social anxieties give them specific contextual inflections. For example, in the recent period there has been an interesting shift in anxiety about children in Canada; there has been a move from worrying about daughters to worrying about sons, from a fear of heterosexual to homosexual predators.(42) Here and elsewhere I make the assumption that social anxiety is not necessarily tied to changes in some objectively measurable external danger; note that I do not suggest that there is not a link, but simply that it is not a necessary one.

One element of the shift from individual to social anxiety requires us to attend to the mechanism of amplification. One highly publicized court case can send Canadian parents to meet their sons off school buses and to withdraw them from hockey programmes across the country. Without developing the point fully I want to insist that we need to take care not to allow the significance of amplification mechanisms to lead us into a conspiracy theory of mass media manipulation. To put the point bluntly, for social anxieties and moral panics to take off there must be ‘something out there’ that leads people who, however gullible they may be, are never simply the dupes or playthings of powerful others. This does not imply that the ‘something out there’ is necessarily ‘true’, but that there are identifiable grounds for the fear which the anxiety expresses whether or not we judge those grounds to be justified.

A second feature of the transition from individual anxiety to social anxiety concerns the way in which anxieties become articulated. Individual anxiety is frequently inarticulate; it often cannot name the underlying fear which gives rise to a complex experiential array of concern, worry, nervousness, aggression, and fear. The presence of others, in conjunction with mechanisms of amplification, allows experiential fears to be named and spoken through the adoption of labels proposed by others. For example, if I am worried about the safety of my children, but am not very clear about what it is that worries me, and then someone tells me that there is a paedophile active in the community, this may provide me with a means of articulating my concerns. Generalized parental concern about their children manifests itself in an array of shifting anxieties which are given direction and focus in an interactive process with others. In this process the role of moral agents or moral entrepreneurs is significant, but it should be stressed that people do not simply ‘pick up’ any label that is thrown into public discourse. Any label has to meet the condition of ‘making sense’, of providing points of contact, links, and connections to the experiential realm. But it is not necessary that it makes what Gramsci called ‘good sense’, it is sufficient that it comes to form part of ‘common sense’, what ‘everybody knows’. It follows that any depth analysis of social anxieties must take cognizance of the background social consciousness. Attempts to grapple with the background conditions have spawned a rich variety of conceptual tools, ‘ideology’, ‘common sense’, and ‘habitus’, to name but a few.

V.(3) Revealing Hidden Anxiety

Another aspect of grappling with the transition from individual to social anxiety arises from the ‘hidden’ character of individual anxieties.(43) If the source of an anxiety is not known to those experiencing it, or is misrecognized, how can the observer identify its origin? The idea of ‘displacement’ offers some assistance. It draws attention to the redirection of anxiety, anger and frustration toward some secondary target; for example, economic insecurity may manifest itself in ‘blaming’ some minority group. Freud argued that individuals have a tendency to recognize and address some sources of their frustration, but when the source of frustration is unavailable, unrecognized or too powerful, a substitute target may become the target for variable responses of anger, hatred, or avoidance. Franz Neumann in seeking to understand the social origins of German fascism argued that ‘true anxiety’, over war and want, could become transformed into ‘neurotic anxiety’ and manifest itself in anti-semitism and genocide. He insisted that such ‘persecutory anxiety’ has a ‘real basis’ in that it is produced when a group is threatened in its social prestige or material interests and is unable to understand the processes leading to its degradation.(44)

Yet the difficulty remains as to how the ‘real basis’ of an anxiety is to be identified. The problematic of ‘displacement’ does offer a useful methodological injunction, namely, the importance of exploring the socio-economic circumstances of those manifesting an anxiety which the observer thinks may exhibit displacement. But identifying a displacement mechanism does not provide the means for distinguishing the respective contribution of immediate from more deep-seated circumstances, nor does it necessarily provide evidence as to how a complex of circumstances, immediate and background, overdetermine the selection of some specific anxiety symptom. This difficulty can be illustrated by reference to Nicola Beisel’s impressive account of why it was that the upper and upper-middle classes of the Eastern American cities supported Comstock’s repressive imposition of censorship from the 1870s onwards. Her general thesis is that moral reform movements are properly seen as struggles over the class reproduction of families. The middle classes were not wealthy enough to ensure the socio-economic position of their sons; they had to secure employment in an increasingly competitive market.(45) Thus far this makes good sense, but what remains unexplained is why the anxieties of the traditional middle classes should be directed at the non-Anglo-Saxon immigrants that were Comstock’s primary targets since immigrants were not objectively rivals in competition for jobs and immigrants were not the only visible minority.(46) Care needs to be taken in providing accounts which fully link the anxiety articulated and the targets of the resulting social or political action.

One further caveat should be entered. While the ressentiments of the petty bourgeoisie provide classic instances for the deployment of anxiety analyses, it should not be assumed that all manifestations of moralizing cultural anxieties can be explain by mobilizing some variant of status anxiety explanation. Contemporary moral reform movements, for example, anti-abortion, environmental, and anti-pornography movements, draw on significantly different and only partially overlapping constituencies that do not readily fit into marginalized categories and enjoin us to pay attention to the substantive normative and political projects of the participants.

Some caution is needed before accepting the view that social anxieties are simply aggregations of individual anxieties. A more thoroughgoing approach requires consideration of whether collective fears and anxieties are not generic consequences of social life itself, a consequence of sociality or of particular forms of sociality. One universalistic approach identifies a persistent tension between ‘self’ and ‘others’, for while we need others they are always a problem; for example, a persistent theme of ‘sex war’ between females and males finds a multitude of expressions in many contrasting ideological hues. A similar universalism is present in Reinhold Niebuhr’s location of a pervasive source of anxiety underlying all social action which, whether creative or destructive, involves an anxiety whose source is the tension that surrounds human finiteness and freedom.(47)

Rather than seeking a universalistic source of social anxieties a more contextualized view treats fear and anxiety as a consequence of specific types of social relations. For example, Jean Delumeau has sought to explain the Western ‘culture of guilt’ that took root in the late middle ages, as a response to the experience of violence, plague and famine.(48) His description of the manifestations of guilt and fear, expressed in the rejection of the world and hostility to others, might have the potential to provide not only a general account of social anxiety, but be extended to provide a basis for an account of the periodicity of waves of social anxiety. In a similar fashion Christopher Lasch has sought to show that modernity’s child, the narcissistic self, is characteristically beset by a chronic condition of anxiety and insecurity.(49)

Albert Hirschman provides yet another instance of this type of sociological explanation. He identifies an underlying core in reactionary socio-political movements expressing a ‘fear of the masses’ that has been active since the French Revolution; as a result social problems of every description have been attributed to the social and moral condition of the lower orders.(50) In a similar vein, Lawrence Stone attributes projects of moral reformation in early nineteenth-century England to the sense of crisis engendered by the French revolution and fear that “the impoverished and alienated masses in the industrial cities would rise up in bloody revolution.”(51) One further example of sociological attempts to engage with these issues is the well-known case of Durkheim’s use of the concept ‘anomie’ to grapple with modernity’s response to the conditions of complexity induced by an expanding division of labor.(52)

It may prove fruitful to make use of the concept ‘social fear’ as a starting point to understand the part played by anxieties in providing the initial impulse to action. Anxiety formation becomes elaborated and takes on a life of its own such that a social anxiety, rooted in the unconscious, brings together or condenses different discourses, different fears, into a single image or target. Mariana Valverde argues that in the anxiety over prostitution in early twentieth-century Canada

the multifarious social anxieties about ‘nation-building’, racial ‘degeneration’, urban decay can best be understood as a dynamic through which gender, race and class constantly masked or repressed – but also signified – one another.(53)

The basic question that has to be addressed is what kind of evidence counts towards the substantiation of an anxiety analysis? How can we be confident that some anxiety is ‘really about’ some more general, but unstated issue? We can unproblematically assert that anxieties provide heuristic points of entry for enquiry. To identify the presence of some anxiety in the historical record invites the enquiry ‘What’s going on here?’ If mid-nineteenth century doctors and teachers fulminated about the dangers of juvenile masturbation we are stimulated to ask “What were they ‘really’ worried about?” And we can argue, as I suggested above, as to whether it manifested a fear of homosexuality or a fear of heterosexuality. However useful the identification of anxieties may be in stimulating enquiry, caution is necessary before a causal link can he confidently advanced. But we can afford to have some confidence when we encounter the presence of groupings or configurations of anxieties that manifest themselves in more or less concerted preoccupations with specific social problems. Such configurations allow us to ‘unpack’ the constitutive elements. For example, if we encounter anxiety about prostitution persistently associated with discourses of immigration and national ‘degeneration’ then these discursive affinities or connections, considered in the light of analyses of the socio-economic circumstances of the groups or strata experiencing these anxieties, allow us to draw inferences with some degree of confidence about the underlying causes. Thus the white slavery alarm that affected both Europe and North America in the early part of this century emerges as a response to the combined processes of urbanization, industrialization and mass immigration.

V.(4) The Sources of Anxiety

I now return to the question posed earlier of how we should attempt to understand the selection of specific targets of social anxiety. Why is some particular target selected at some particular conjuncture? Why did the spotlight fall so unswervingly on prostitution at the end of the nineteenth-century? Why did it only sporadically focus, for example, on homosexuality? This question requires us to explore the link between the ‘target’ and its underlying causes.

One attractive possibility is provided by the quest to understand the selected targets as symbols. For example, Gusfield’s account of the American temperance movement in which alcohol symbolized the lifestyle of Catholic southern European immigrants while temperance represented the virtues of Anglo-Saxon rural virtue remains persuasive.(54) Similarly Stuart Hall’s account of ‘mugging’ as symbol for race/youth/inner-city works effectively. The difficult issue is whether such accounts can go beyond the identification of how a symbolic relation became constructed to provide an account of underlying causes. It is far from clear that all social anxieties can be understood as symbolic representations of underlying causes. Let me return again to the case of prostitution. Lynda Nead explores the representation of women in Victorian art; she relies heavily on an anxiety thesis. She argues that mid-Victorian England experienced a crisis of empire, epitomized by the Indian Mutinies of 1857, that was perceived as being linked to domestic immorality exemplified in prostitution. The linkage she suggests between underlying crisis (empire), anxiety (national decline), and targets of anxiety (prostitution) requires these connections to be spelt out.(55) She contributes something new to my enquiry when she justifies the linkage between empire, nation, prostitution in the following terms:

It is surely significant that the language of moral and dynastic degeneration is the same: decline and fall; the terms plot both a moral and an imperial narrative and a fall from virtue can symbolize the end of an empire.(56)

We can generalize her point by suggesting that any connection, while exhibiting a symbolic dimension, also posits the presence of what I will call a ‘discursive affinity,’ in that it identifies elements that provide a discursive ‘fit’, features that are capable of providing links that make sense within the idiom of the prevailing common sense. This facilitates a practical movement backwards and forwards between the discursive elements in such a way as to generate the plausibility of the underlying thematic of ‘immorality’ as the condition uniting the units – empire, nation, and prostitution. The discursive linkage acquires a ‘natural’ feel, one that ‘makes sense’ such that the discursive affinity gets invoked in everyday contexts so that very soon ‘everyone knows’ it to be true.

Another possible explanatory strategy is one which disaggregates ‘target’ and ‘root cause’; the specific target may be regarded as ‘accidental’, ‘arbitrary’ or as resulting from some parallel set of circumstances. For example, in nineteenth-century Canada ‘anti-Chinese’ anxiety was a convenient target for the nativism that typified responses to sequential immigration in a period when other groups could have been the target of hostility. Thus during the Second World War it was Japanese-Canadians who were targeted rather than Canadians of German extraction. The idea of the ‘coupling’ of explanatory elements may be helpful in understanding those situations where otherwise separate and distinct issues become linked in a way which is conjunctural rather than necessary.


The discussion of the methodological problems associated with anxiety analysis suggests that only cautious approval can be given to it as an explanatory strategy and that some important caveats need to be introduced. First and foremost is the insistence that it is necessary to interrogate the form of the causal connection that is posited. Even the strong examples discussed above, Stuart Hall, Peter Gay, Joseph Gusfield, and Lynda Nead, that all work well in deepening our understanding of their selected topics, do so in a largely pre-theoretical way. Their accounts ‘work’ in that their conclusions seem plausible, but not beyond dispute. What is less clear is the extent to which we are entitled to generalize from such studies in order to build up a more generally applicable methodological strategy.

The problems associated with social explanation couched in terms of anxiety do not take forms that allow a prescriptive ‘solution’. There is, I suggest, no ‘better’ version of anxiety theory which overcomes these difficulties. The best that can be achieved is to enter an injunction against any form of analysis which having identified the existence of some anxiety proceeds directly to assert that it is the ’cause’ of some social manifestation. I have sought to make the way we go about handling anxiety as a socio-historical causal factor more self-conscious by problematizing the relation between ‘anxiety’ and ’cause.’

A positive contribution can be made by attending to a number of interconnected issues. First, anxieties provide valuable heuristic points of entry for enquiry; they encourage us to ask ‘What was going on?’. Second, their identification allows inferential connections to be made between elements present within discourses; these may be either external or internal inferences. Third, the concept of displacement provides an important methodological injunction requiring the exploration of the cultural and socio-economic circumstances of the participants, of both agents and targets. Fourth, anxieties can be examined to search out discursive affinities that make it possible to ‘unpack’ the configurations or combinations in which anxieties manifest themselves. Social anxieties, whether acute or trivial, stimulate enquiry. They open up the prospect of understanding the forces that induce action and occasion change. Yet the pitfalls that attend the pursuit of social anxieties give rise to serious risks of weak causal explanation that can seem plausible until we treat the notion of anxiety as a concept which has limits to its applicability in socio-historical enquiries. There is no occasion to celebrate a newly named species of explanatory theory, but to retain those ‘anxieties about anxiety’ that stimulated this inquiry in the first place.

Departments of Law and Sociology Carleton University Ottawa K1S 5B6 Canada


I thank Piers Beirne, Joe Hermer, Derek Smith, and Melanie White for valued discussion and suggestions.

1. My engagement with the issues raised in this essay were stimulated when I realized, after the event, that I had myself made use of a version of anxiety explanation. In a recent book, Governance of the Consuming Passions (New York, 1996), I was concerned to explain why it was that sumptuary laws, regulating dress and other forms of consumption, were enacted in such profusion in early modern European cities. The answer I advanced was that the urban experience confronted people with an anxiety about how to recognize people in the urban ‘world of strangers’. I argued that sumptuary laws can be understood as attempts to secure ‘social recognizability’.

2. Kai Erikson, Wayward Puritans: A Study in the Sociology of Deviance (New York, 1966).

3. As I began to formulate the issues with which this essay is concerned I collected references to works, minor and major, and have accumulated over 150 instances. Each time the topic is discussed with colleagues or presented in seminars further examples come to light.

4. Sigmund Freud, The Problem of Anxiety (trans. Henry Bunker) (New York, 1936).

5. Peter Gay, The Bourgeois Experience: Victoria to Freud (3 vols.) (Oxford, 1984-1993).

6. Reinhold Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man: A Christian Interpretation (2 vols.) (New York, 1964).

7. Neil J. Smelser, Theory of Collective Behavior (New York, 1963) p. 47.

8. An influential example was William Kornhauser, The Politics of Mass Society (New York, 1959).

9. Franz L. Neumann, “Anxiety and Politics” [1954] in The Democratic and the Authoritarian State: Essays in Political and Legal Theory (Glencoe, 1957), pp. 270-300.

10. R.S. Lynd and H.M. Lynd Middletown (New York, 1929); Mary T. Douglas and Aaron Wildavsky, Risk and Culture: An Essay on the Selection of Technical and Environmental Dangers (Berkeley, 1982); Walter E. Houghton, The Victorian Frame of Mind, 1830-1970 (New Haven, 1957); and Geoffrey Pearson, Hooligan: A History of Respectable Fears (London, 1983).

11. Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations (New York, 1978).

12. Bronislaw Malinowski, Magic, Science and Religion (Glencoe, 1948).

13. Mary T. Douglas, Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo (London, 1966).

14. Peter Worsley, The Trumpet Shall Sound (London, 1957); Leon Festinger, When Prophecy Fails (Minneapolis, 1956).

15. I do no more than list some of the best known ‘moral panic’ studies: Stan Cohen, Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The Creation of the Mods and Rockers (London, 1972); Erich Goode and Nachman Ben-Yehuda, Moral Panics: The Social Construction of Deviance (Oxford, 1994). More recently studies of satanic panics and child-abuse scandals deploy a similar mode of analysis.

16. Representative studies of moral regulation movements are: David J. Pivar, Purity Crusade: Sexual Morality and Social Control 1868-1900 (Westport, 1973); Edward Bristow, Vice and Vigilance: Purity Movements in Britain Since 1700 (Dublin, 1977); Lucy Bland, Banishing the Beast: Feminism, Sex and Morality 1885-1918 (Harmondsworth, 1995); Mariana Valverde, The Age of Light, Soap and Water: Social Purity and Philanthropy in Canada, 1885-1925 (Toronto, 1991).

17. Joseph Gusfield, Symbolic Crusade: Status Politics and the American Temperance Movement (Urbana, 1963).

18. The ressentiment tradition has its roots in Nietzsche’s discussion of the impotent hatred embedded in slave morality; the concept was sociologized by Max Scheler, Ressentiment [1912] (ed. Lewis Coser) (Glencoe, 1961) and by Svend Ranulf, Moral Indignation and Middle Class Psychology [1938] (New York, 1964).

19. Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste (Cambridge, Mass., 1984), p. 435.

20. Lynda Nead, Myths of Sexuality: Representations of Women in Victorian Britain (Oxford, 1988); Elaine Showalter, Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the Fin de Siecle (New York, 1990); Lesley A. Hall, Hidden Anxieties: Male Sexuality, 1900-1950 (Cambridge, 1991); Judith Walkowitz, City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late Nineteenth Century London (Chicago, 1992).

21. Mark T. Connelly, The Response to Prostitution in the Progressive Era (Chapel Hill, 1980); Judith R. Walkowitz, Prostitution and Victorian Society: Women, Class and the State (Cambridge, 1980); David J. Langum, Crossing Over the Line: Legislative Morality and the Mann Act (Chicago, 1994).

22. Albert Hirschman, The Rhetoric of Reaction: Perversity, Futility, Jeopardy (Cambridge, Mass., 1991).

23. Representative of this body of work are: Paul A. Slack, Poverty and Policy in Tudor and Stuart England (London, 1988); Paul S. Boyer, Urban Masses and Moral Order in America, 1820-1920 (Cambridge, Mass., 1978); George Steinmetz, Regulating the Social: The Welfare State and Local Politics in Imperial Germany (Princeton, 1993).

24. Typical of this tradition are: Carol Bacchi, Liberation Deferred: The Ideas of English Canadian Suffragists, 1877-1914 (Toronto, 1983); Francesco Cordasco, The White Slave Trade and the Immigrant: A Chapter in American Social History (Detroit, 1981).

25. Stuart Hall, Chas Critcher, Tony Jefferson, John Clarke and Brian Roberts, Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State, and Law and Order (London, 1978).

26. Hall, p. 223.

27. Hall, pp. 225-26.

28. Stuart Hall, “Popular-Democratic vs. Authoritarian Populism: Two Ways of ‘Taking Democracy Seriously’,” in Alan Hunt (ed.) Marxism and Democracy (London, 1980), pp. 157-85.

29. Gay I:57.

30. Gay II:329.

31. As with other crime categories, statistics are most likely to record some combination of increased rates of reporting and changed classification practices by law enforcement agencies.

32. Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality: Vol.I An Introduction (New York, 1978), p. 70.

33. It was Richard Hofstadter first suggested the fruitfulness of mechanisms of ‘status defence’ to an understanding of American politics; Richard Hofstadter, The Age of Reform: From Bryan to FDR (New York, 1955).

34. Ernest S. Turner, Roads to Ruin: The Shocking History of Social Reform (London, 1950).

35. Ernest A. Bell, War on the White Slave Trade (Chicago, 1909), p. 18 has an illustration of a smirking male and innocent young woman in an ice cream parlor. The caption reads: “Ice cream parlors of the city, largely run by foreigners, are the places where scores of girls have taken their first step downwards.”

36. Connelly, p. 6.

37. Herbert Blumer, “Social Problems as Collective Behavior,” Social Problems 18 (1971): 298-306.

38. See Alan Hunt, “The Great Masturbation Panic and the Discourses of Moral Regulation” Journal of the History of Sexuality 8 (1998): 575-615.

39. Vern Bullough amd Martha Voght, “Homosexuality and Its Confusions with the ‘Secret Sin’ in Pre-Freudian America,” Journal of the History of Medicine 28 (1973): 14355.

40. Freud, p. 147.

41. Note that the term ‘social anxiety’ is used by social psychologists to designated anxiety experienced by individuals in social situations (e.g. embarrassment, shyness). I use it to designate anxieties shared by aggregates of individuals and used to make sense of the social world and as a grounds for social action.

42. Or it might be more accurate to say that parents continue to worry about their daughters, but that a new anxiety about the sexual safety of their sons has been added to the repertoire of anxiety. This shift concerned the quintessential Canadian preoccupation with hockey; it arose as a result of revelations about some cases of sexual abuse by hockey coaches as a result of which large numbers of boys were removed from hockey programs.

43. I leave aside the important issue of ‘misrecognition’ as simply too large for the scope of this essay since it raises all the difficulties surrounding consciousness and unconsciousness.

44. Neumann, p. 290. Note the similar structure of Neumann’s analysis to that provided by Hofstadter and Gusfield using the concept ‘status anxiety’.

45. Nicola Beisel, Imperiled Innocents: Anthony Comstock and Family Reproduction in Victorian America (Princeton, 1997).

46. It should be noted that in seeking to ground her explanatory account on the material interests of social classes, Beisel disallows herself from using the Gusfield-type explanation that immigrants were targeted because they, more than any other minority, presented a symbolic challenge to the cultural hegemony of the middle classes.

47. Niebuhr.

48. Jean Delumeau, Sin and Fear: The Emergence of Western Guilt Culture, 13th-18th Century (trans. Eric Nicholson) (New York, 1991).

49. Christopher Lasch, The Minimal Self: Psychic Survival in Troubled Times (New York, 1984).

50. Hirschman. Robert Storch makes the significant point that fear of the masses persisted in nineteenth-century Britain even after the securing of social order after 1848 with the retreat of Chartism; Robert D. Storch, “The Problem of Working Class Leisure: Some Roots of Middle Class Moral Reform in the Industrial North, 1825-1850” in A.P. Donajgrodzki (ed.) Social Control in Nineteenth Century Britain (London, 1977), pp. 138-162.

51. Lawrence Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800 (London, 1977), p. 677. Himmelfarb disputes Stone’s interpretation insisting that ‘moral reformation’ projects arose long before the French Revolution and fear of an industrial proletariat; Gertrude Himmelfarb, The De-Moralization of Society: From Victorian Virtues to Modern Values (New York, 1995), p. 273.

52. Emile Durkheim, Suicide: A Study in Sociology [1897] (London, 1952).

53. Valverde, p. 63.

54. The telling criticism that Gusfield lays himself open to is that all moral protests cannot be explained in terms of status protests by some waning social class. His text is ambivalent; sometimes he suggests a general ‘status anxiety’ thesis and, at others, restricts the thesis to the conjunctural phases of the temperance movement.

55. Note the link to the pervasive theme in English historiography which sought to track the malaise of the imperial project in terms exemplified by Gibbon’s famous study of ‘the decline and fall’ of the Roman Empire; Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire [1776-88] (London, 1910).

56. Nead, p. 94.

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