Fear, identity and security in post-9/11 American foreign policy

Lead Research Organisation: King's College London
Department Name: War Studies


A poll from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in August 2016 found that 42% of Americans felt that their country is less safe than it was before the 9/11 attacks. Fear and security in US foreign policy is of fundamental contemporary concern, yet the role of fear has not been systematically interrogated. The 9/11 attacks and Trump's electoral success have given rise to an era of volatility and uncertainty; the political and military consequences of which reach all corners of the globe. Scholars have explored how George W Bush's post-9/11 discourse created and perpetuated a culture of fear around terrorism. Mobilising fear has also been central to Trump's exclusionary and inflammatory immigration policy: the collective fear of violence and a decay of American identity are central tenets of "making America great again." The intersection between terrorism and migration revolves around the inextricable relationship between fear and identity; particularly how 'others' (terrorists and migrants) are presented in opposition to an American 'self.'

The aim of this research is to assess how discourses of fear are evoked and invoked by the George W Bush and Trump administrations, and how these are used to justify securitised responses to terrorism and migration. In doing so, I will identify ways in which collective fear plays in to post-9/11 US national identity, and explore how this is predicated upon 'self/other' binaries.

Recently, IR scholars have called for a more systematic engagement with emotion in the analysis of world politics. The link between the highly emotional impact of 9/11 and the subsequent US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq is clear, but undertheorised. Textual deconstruction of post-9/11 discourse make recourse to notions of fear, hatred, emnity and evil, yet ontologically these concepts are neither captured nor interrogated. This flourishing body of literature has coincided with calls for a wider and more experimental agenda for security studies, to which this research will contribute. The theoretical affinity between emotion and securitisation offers an innovative and rich research agenda within the IR discipline: by giving emotions ontological power within securitisation, I will contribute to a fresh avenue of research in IR which seeks to recognise the centrality of emotion, particularly fear, to threat and identity construction.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
ES/P000703/1 30/09/2017 29/09/2027
2105087 Studentship ES/P000703/1 30/09/2018 12/10/2023 Lucy Gehring