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Message posted on 22/03/2018

CfP: The Multifaceted Relationship between Fear and Technology

Call for Papers
The Multifaceted Relationship between Fear and Technology
Interdisciplinary Workshop, 1012 October 2018, Max Planck Institute (MPI) for
Human Development, Berlin

Alexander Gall (Deutsches Museum, Munich), Martina Heler
(Helmut-Schmidt-Universitt, Hamburg), Bettina Hitzer (MPI for Human
Development, Berlin), Karena Kalmbach (TU Eindhoven), Anne Schmidt (MPI for
Human Development, Berlin), Andreas Spahn (TU Eindhoven)

The aim of the workshop is to hash out various interdisciplinary approaches to
conceptualizing the relationship between technology and fear. Computer games
provide an example that illustrates well how complex and multifaceted this
relationship can be:
According to a Bitkom survey conducted in 2017, 43 percent of Germans over the
age of 14 regularly play computer games. Every year, more and more visitors
attend the Berlin Radio Show (Internationale Funkausstellung Berlin/IFA). And
every year, people spend millions of euros on video games and other forms of
electronic entertainment. These findings are just some of the many indices of
the widespread fascination with technology. But outside the technology pages
of the papers and the internet, discussions about computer games often
foreground a feeling markedly different from fascination, namely, fear. Some
of the fears discussed are familiar, recalling the sorts of fears that
cultural critics of the past summoned up to resist the arrival of new media.
However, the example of computer games does more than give occasion to think
about continuities; it also demonstrates that the relationship between
technology and fear is complex and multifaceted.
Every time a young person commits a mass shooting, politicians, teachers,
psychologists and journalists debate about whether regularly playing
first-person shooter games had a part in it. More generally, fears that such
games spark or strengthen a tendency to violence are commonly voiced. On a
different level, many parents fear that the daily consumption of computer
games might hinder their childs cognitive and emotional development. Or is
the real danger an addiction to gaming, as some members of the American
Psychiatric Association proposed in 2017 when they formulated the new
diagnosis Internet Gaming Disorder? In other spheres of society, experts and
laypeople alike subscribe to the notion that computer games harbor the danger
of a substance-independent dependency. Around the world, clinics and
self-help groups are being set up to help heal the addicted. Gamers themselves
present us with yet another form of fear, in the sense that many of them enjoy
games built on an intense experience of fear, such as horror games like the
popular Outlast. What is so attractive about this kind of play-fear? Is it a
source of pleasure? Or can gaming be used as a kind of medicine to put a
damper on everyday fears? For years, psychologists, neurologists and doctors
have been grappling with the possible therapeutic dimensions of artificially
invoking fear in playful settings. Computer games designed for this purpose
are supposed to help people control their physiological reactions of fear in
certain situations or overcome real phobias through playing in virtual worlds.
There is even a special genre of cancer-killer shooters intended to help
people sublimate fears of illness into positive forms of resistance. For those
afraid of losing their mental sharpness, there are computer games for mental
jogging designed to hem cognitive aging.
The example of computer games makes clear how fear can be tied up with
technology in manifold, often contradictory ways. Fear can be a reaction to
the proliferation and use of certain technologies and the consequences of such
use; indeed, it is this kind of fear of technology that has dominated extant
research on the subject. In most research, fear is treated in relation or
opposition to other emotions, such as hope, fascination, pleasure, concern,
and the search for security. But feelings of fear can also be inextricably
bound up with the use of technology, and can even be desired and sought out.
These facts toss up a number of questions that have until now received little
attention from researchers, such as: What role does knowledge about fear, its
physiology and its functioning play in the development of certain
technologies? How does marketing research evaluate and measure the need for
fear and the fear of fear? Finally, how have specific understandings of what
fear is shaped the development of certain technologies, making them into
emotional things whose materiality alters or produces experiences of and
approaches to fear? Can game designers deliberately calculate the addictive
potential of games? And if so, is it because they have precise knowledge about
the fears of consumers? How can the degree to which technologically produced
immersive experiences are convincing enough to be held as real be determined,
explained, and studied? And to what extent has the gaming industry taken on a
leading role in other branches? What role does the exchange of knowledge
between various industries and fields of research play, and what effects do
these exchanges have? How do marketing and the media use and produce fear when
trying to pave the way for the implementation of certain forms of technology?
Does the fear of technology adhere to a similar logic in the fields of
commercial production, private consumption and politics, or does it take on
different patterns in different fields? What role do gender, age, social
background, ethnicity, and other social categories play in the development,
production, marketing, circulation and consumption of technologies associated
with fear?
The workshop will address these questions from historical, philosophical,
sociological and anthropological perspectives. In doing so, it will contribute
to our understanding of the relation between technology and fear in the
twentieth and twenty-first century, which has until now received little
attention from academic research. The aim of the workshop is to hash out
various interdisciplinary approaches to conceptualizing the relationship
between technology and fear. It will provide an occasion for exchange and
bring together scholars interested in conducting further research on the
topic. The workshop is open for contributions from virtually all fields. In
particular, however, the organizers would like to attract contributions on the
following subjects:
- Technologies of communication and entertainment
- Security technologies
- Infrastructures
- Technologies in medicine, care and therapy
- Processes of digitalization and automation
In order to give maximum time to interdisciplinary discussion, we ask
contributors to keep their talks to no more than 15 minutes. This will provide
opportunity for participants from other disciplines to comment on
contributions. Accordingly, each participant will be asked to provide an oral
comment on another contribution.

Travel and accommodation costs will be covered by the Max Planck Institute for
Human Development. There is no registration fee.

If you are interested in participating, please send an application to by 30 April 2018 and attach a single word-file
containing a short CV and a paper-proposal of not more than 700 words. All
applicants will be informed regarding acceptance of their proposals by 15 June


Bettina Hitzer

Lentzeallee 94
14195 Berlin
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