Part IV of a Conference Series “Between ‘Total War’ and ‘Small Wars’: Studies in the Societal History of the Cold War”
Hamburg Institute for Social Research, Hamburg, Germany, September 5 to 7, 2007
The societal history of the Cold War is inseparably bound up with the atom bomb and the threat of the potential use of this weapon. Put more precisely: with the fact that both sides possessed a weapon capable of destroying all life. The politics of the bomb were embedded in a structural dilemma. For the sake of self-preservation the military use of atomic weapons had to be renounced. Intimidation of the enemy and maintenance of one’s own credibility, however, required that signals be given to the other side that one was capable and willing to employ such a weapon. Necessity, if not ineluctability, demanded an ambivalent and delicate mixture of political principles: calculability to whatever extent possible, incalculability to whatever extent necessary. In other words: The promise and guarantee of security had become precarious—and with them the configuration of the future as well as the very possibility of configuring it. For four decades this was the hallmark of every one of the countless crises of confrontation between blocs. “Staging the danger” and “sounding the all-clear signal,” “state of emergency” and “détente” were inseparable components of the period’s politics.
For that reason a discussion of the problem of “Fear in the Cold War” is crucial. An international conference held by the Hamburg Institute for Social Research, from September 5–7, 2007, will be devoted to this topic with consideration of the following questions:
The first question posed deals with the social manifestations and political staging of fear in the nuclear age. Put more precisely: with the interrelationship and symbiosis of “being afraid” and “instilling fear,” with the instrumentalization and acceptance of fear among the general public. It is thus presumed that the problem of “Fear in the Cold War” is not solely a matter of a purposeful political strategy. In addition, there is also the perspective of mental and sociopsychological attitudes, including the willingness to be frightened.
The second question posed addresses the modalities of dealing with fear, the reciprocal linkage between fear-creating scenarios and the promise of security, of insecurity on the one hand and of a demonstration of strength on the other; or the problem of how fear and its staging are connected with the demonstration and verification of power, including the cultivation of fantasies of power and omnipotence. It is thus presumed that a staged condition of fear is not compatible over time with the necessity of social cohesion and integration. To that extent, the existence and staging of a threat demands its own counterproposal. Responses are sought to the question of the nature of such a counterplan, of its political, communicative and aesthetic forms of expression.
Third, it is of importance that the methodological implications and premises of the topic be ascertained and that contributions that take us even further in this regard be included. These should also deal with the discussion that has arisen over the last few years. This presumes of course that this discussion still requires methodological enhancement and refinement. The conference should therefore also be a forum for the exchange of innovative concepts and for a discussion of methodological desiderata.
We are asking for proposals for papers that address at least one or possibly more of the following aspects:
1. Political and military elites
What role does fear play in images of the world, of its politics and society, held by the elite in decision-making positions?
2. The political instrumentalization of fear
Under what conditions is fear instrumentalized, for what political purposes and with what societal intentions? What is the relationship between real and constructed scenarios of menace? What political styles and what legitimizing rhetoric are formed from them? What is thematicized and in what way? And: When and under what preconditions is such an instrumentalization rejected? How does one define limits in dealing with fear? To what extent does a “politics of fear” establish order, self-assurance and cooperation, to what extent is it detrimental to those political goals? What role does the contribution of the media play in this regard?
3. Counterproposals for fear
What promises of security are evoked by or counterposed to fear? What is the relationship between talk about fear and the proposal that one need not fear? What forms of expression do such counterproposals take on?
4. Societal interaction with fear
Is there a willingness to accept fear and how does one decode that willingness? What traditions and societal self-images are conspicuous? What is accepted and by whom? Who are the mediators? In what social practices (like denunciation) is social acceptance of fear reflected? Where are the limits of social acceptance? Which counterproposals do critics (peace and anti-nuke activists, disarmament advocates) make use of? Is playing with fear also a component of the political counterproposal to fear?
5. Cycles in the political and social interaction with fear
What can be concluded about the cyclical tendencies of a politics of fear and attempts to restrict it? And what about its lasting effects. What traces and vestiges remain afterward?
These key questions should be discussed with examples taken from the realms of politics, culture, and the mass media. Such examples should be chosen from the following “time frames.”
Points of reference include: The beginning of the nuclear arms race. The dramatization of paranoid fears (McCarthyism, renewed show trials of traitors in the Soviet bloc), crises and war (in Berlin and Korea), opposition to “atomic death” (extraparliamentary movements, protest and opposition by artists, intellectuals and scientists), aestheticization of nuclear weapons.
Points of reference include: The dramatization of global political crises (Berlin, Cuba), management of the future and discovery of “new frontiers” (space exploration, futurology, cybernetics), the political advisory role of “defense intellectuals,” the concept of the “easing of tensions” in the centers of power on the one hand and the shifting of confrontations to the periphery on the other.
Points of reference include: The cyclical tendencies of apocalyptic scenarios (in the context of the NATO double track decision on medium-range missiles, the nuclear energy crisis), the greater value placed on civilian agents in the discussion of foreign and defense policy, the thematization of “risk management” (“the risk society” and postmodernism), the internal crisis of the socialist bloc, the calling into question of the western hegemony’s powers of integration.
The topic is incorporated within the larger context of a global societal history of the Cold War, in which particular weight will be give to comparative studies of the nuclear powers and/or societies under the “nuclear umbrella” of the superpowers. Therefore the focus will be on papers dealing with the USA, Western and Eastern Europe, Japan, and the Soviet Union.
The conference will be held in English.
All interested parties should apply by e-mail with a 1 to 2 page abstract in English, plus a brief CV, including a list of publications, by January 1, 2007. This should be mailed to:
It is expected that invitees will submit a paper up to 20 pages long on their proposed topic by June 1, 2007. The Hamburg Institute for Social Research will cover the costs of travel and accommodations.
The conference will be held at the Hamburg Institute for Social Research with Prof. Dr. Bernd Greiner, Dr. Uta Andrea Balbier, Dr. Christian Th. Mueller and Dr. Dierk Walter presiding.
For further information please contact:
Dr. Uta Andrea Balbier
Hamburger Institut für Sozialforschung
Dr. Uta Andrea Balbier
Hamburger Institut für Sozialforschung
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