January 02, 2015

Fear, Travel, and Anomie

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

Sociologists explore the ways in which societies experience and produce fear. Frank Furedi and Barry Glassner both wrote books with nearly similar titles in the late 1990s on the culture of fear. Within the Everyday Sociology Blog, Karen Sternheimer has written about how fears of media itself distract from other issues, such as poverty and inequality.

Societies spend a lot of resources on issues that are not as much of a threat to most people than other issues, as in the case of Ebola or the Flu, as Sternheimer wrote in a recent post. One of those is much more likely to affect more people—and kill more people—and it’s not the first disease mentioned. Sociologists explore how and why fears are manufactured, as well as who benefits from the construction of fears, particularly fears of things that are unlikely to harm most people.

I came across a Los Angeles Times op-ed by travel guru, Rick Steves, about fear and travel. Or, rather, how fear leads people to avoid travel. His argument is in line with what sociologists have been telling us for some time. We fear things we don’t know much about. The unknown is scarier than the real threats to our personal security.

Not knowing what is happening around us or not having a sense of real risks leads a society to an increasing sense of anomie, caused by feeling disconnected from others. A term first described in the late nineteenth century by Emile Durkheim, anomie is a feeling of anxiety that comes from a state of normlessness. Society changes too fast or conditions are such that the old norms no longer apply yet new norms have not yet emerged. Thus we get anxious and upset since we don’t know what we’re supposed to do.

We regularly hear about global crises, such as political instability in the Middle East, the Ebola epidemic, narco-terrorism and the lingering effects of the global recession that the world may feel out of control. It is understandable that a lot of people may feel a sense of anomie.

Although he’s not a social scientist, Rick Steves’ perspective points to the media and political apparati as culpable in creating fear; he has created a web page about how to overcome fear. On that page, he concludes his essay by stating that he:

believe(s) the most powerful things an individual American can do to fight terrorism are to travel a lot, learn about the world, come home with a new perspective, and then work to help our country fit more comfortably and less fearfully into this planet.

How does that fit into addressing anomie? Travel creates learning experiences that help us face fears and learn about other cultures.  Travel enables us to gain different perspectives about others whose lives might seem different than ours from a distance; it also allows us to think more critically about our own social arrangements.

If enough people travel, they might feel more secure and less fearful; yet we still have to deal with the sources of fear in our society. Cable news media, fed by powerful interests, still broadcasts fearful messages to us every day. How might they and others benefit from the production of fear? How might people offer counter-narratives that might be more beneficial than the creation of fear and anomie?


"Learn the world' - the best tip anyone can be given I reckon :)

Travel give you a chance to learn new and explore world

You're right. Often it is the unknown that brings down on our knees with fear. If one has the resources to travel, one should face his fears and go forth, make a worthy contribution to society and help countries that are in need. True that one should protect one's self, but if you can travel to a place that has suffering, and you know you can help, then go on and help! Thanks for sharing such a wonderful insight, thoroughly enjoyed reading as well as learning from your blog.

Traveling is not just fun with family or friends. Its time to build your personality and observe the different people of different areas. Its chance to understand people's lifestyle. Fear and Anomie are two paralyzing forces that I found in close folks. But I observed them doing better with the rest of time.
Traveling should continue you will see the results. I believe.

Travelling is a leisure activity which is pursued by rich people of the society.

Love to read articles more

Many More articles to come..

Travelling is the best part in human's life.

loved it

Will read more articles.

Love to read more articles and enhance knowledge.

More Knowledge and Good Information.

Loved to see these images and article from your side.

I totally agree that to travel creates learning experiences that help us face fears and learn about other cultures and not only in different cultures as well as to ourselves we will be able to learn how to face facts in our lives.

Good post about fear while travelling. If we can share ideas that will be great helpful for new visitors

I think travel increase your confidence and decrease your fear of people.

It is fantastic post!

Nice travel blog!

Thanks for sharing this useful blog with us.

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