In this book-launch talk, I introduce key ideas from Anxiety in Middle-Class America: Sociology of Emotional Insecurity in Late Modernity (2022). I begin by defining the contemporary setting for our preoccupation with anxiety that we call the ‘age of anxiety.’ I then outline different configurations of anxiety as a mental health problem, public health problem, sociological problem, and problem for the sociology of emotions. Next, I situate my work in contemporary interdisciplinary scholarship that unsettles conventional views of emotion as irrational, biologically given, subjective, and distinct from cognition. I insist on the contextual, dynamic, intersubjective, and productive features of emotional experience. I consider what sociologists have to say about current anxiety levels in social life. Finally, I propose a sociological reframing of today’s anxiety disorders that accounts for the moral-emotional tensions we generate in our dealings with life demands in late modern societies. These tensions represent our efforts to constitute ourselves as persons in these societies. I conclude with a brief evocation of emerging practices that propose anxiety-driven alternatives to current ways of doing things, from contemporary social activisms like Me Too and Black Lives Matter to new orientations to efficiency and performance like permaculture and circular economies.
Valérie de Courville Nicol is Professor of Sociology at Concordia University in Montreal. She is the author of Anxiety in Middle-Class America: Sociology of Emotional Insecurity in Late Modernity (2022), Social Economies of Fear and Desire: Emotional Regulation, Emotion Management, and Embodied Autonomy (2011), and Le Soupçon Gothique: L’Intériorisation de la Peur en Occident (2004).