Formations of terror - can systems approaches help us to model and avoid the tipping point?

Bell, Simon (2015). Formations of terror - can systems approaches help us to model and avoid the tipping point? In: 21st International Sustainable Development Research Society Conference Tipping Point: Vulnerability and Adaptive Capacity, 10-12 Jul 2015, Geelong, Australia, ISDR Society.


Human beings are naturally prone to fear as an instinctive reaction and this is not a bad thing. However, in this paper I argue that social and cultural formations in contemporary life play on and use fear as a response which can be counted on to prompt our behaviour. Furedi’s ‘paradigm of vulnerability’ (1, page 164) could be seen as a natural consequence. It would not be too much to suggest that contemporary society is largely controlled and conformed by fear and, further, that this is most markedly and viscerally demonstrated in the fields of Climate Change and environmental management (although it is just as stridently evident in broadcast concerns over terrorism, killer viruses, etc.).

Being fearful at an instinctive level is, by definition, not conducive to problem structuring, change managing and innovation.

The argument of this paper is that fear, when manipulated in civic life, becomes a series of ‘Formations of Terror’ which lead to ‘learned helplessness’, vulnerability without grace and knee jerk, instinctive reaction. Following over thirty years in studies relating to information technology, sustainability indicators and environmental management, I explore examples of the Formations of Terror (FoT). The paper investigates the basis for these formations by use of systemic devices. If fear can create vulnerability and exacerbate it then systemic modelling and conceptualisation may provide valuable assets for mitigation and even reversal of the worst effects.

The uber-super-tanker of collective human consciousness takes time to turn around. A systemic mindset will help us to understand the cage of fear, provide us with the means to figure out the causes of most terror and enable us to collectively push back on those causes.

Viewing alternatives

Download history

Item Actions