Call for Papers "The Multifaceted Relationship between Fear and Technology"
Interdisciplinary Workshop, 10–12 October 2018, Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Human Development, Berlin
Alexander Gall (Deutsches Museum, Munich), Martina Heßler (Helmut-Schmidt-Universität, 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 child’s 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 2018.
Contact Info: 
Bettina Hitzer
Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Lentzeallee 94, 14195 Berlin, Germany