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Spaces of Male Fear: The Sexual Politics of Being Watched

NCJ Number
British Journal of Criminology Volume: 52 Issue: 6 Dated: November 2012 Pages: 1172-1191
Date Published
November 2012
20 pages

This study explored how the arrangement and meaning of particular public spaces contributes to an individual's fear of violent assault.


This article makes a contribution to the sparse literature on the ethnography of fear. Using observation and focus groups, the authors compared men and women's perceptions of danger in relation to a specific civic space - public toilets. Here, it is men, rather than women, who express a marked concern about the threat of physical assault. The authors attempt to understand the nature and social origin of this fear, and its relationship to the arrangement of space. In so doing, they help sketch out what Tuan (1979) called 'landscapes of fear'. Places that take us outside of, or lie at the margins of, regular social space can be particularly fear-inducing. Civil inattention is a core means of dealing with this problem and we analyze its functions in allaying fear. The authors also suggest that spaces in which private behavior can be surreptitiously surveyed or where there is an indeterminate relationship between private and public space can prompt a pernicious sense of worry. Indeed, being watched and being mistakenly perceived to be watching emerge from our data as really important correlates of fear of violence. The authors employed Sartre, Berger and Mulveys's ideas about the gaze to analyze the psychosocial effects of this. Finally, the authors stress the importance of seeing the experience of fear - including its relationship to spatial arrangement - as socially contingent. The discussion section of this paper suggests that one understands men's fear of violence in public toilets as a reaction to what Turner calls an 'inter-structural' social situation, namely the temporary suspension of the usual gender hierarchy. (Published Abstract)

Date Published: November 1, 2012