CFP: Workshop, ‘Who’s Afraid of ISIS’?

“Who’s Afraid of ISIS?” A Workshop and Themed Journal Issue on the Politics of Hegemonic Fear

Colgate University and On Line

9-10 September 2016

Deadline for Abstracts: 15 May 2016

Keynote:  David Campbell, Author of ‘Writing Security,’ and ‘National Deconstruction.’ Emeritus Professor of Geography, Durham University and Distinguished O’Connor Visiting Professor, Colgate University.

The ‘War Seminar,’ a distributed publishing initiative jointly sponsored by Colgate University’s P-CON Program and the journal, Critical Studies on Security, is pleased to announce a call for abstracts/participation for a unique workshop and themed special issue entitled “Who’s Afraid of ISIS?”

Eschewing familiar debates about the status of ISIS as an existential threat to the West, this project aims to subsume those arguments within a broader examination of the political place of anxiety itself in discussions of the so-called Islamic State.

The War Seminar seeks to focus on the doxologies that attend such arguments –that is, on “what goes without saying because it comes without saying” in assessments of ISIS, and to treat those same accounts as the unexamined points of departure for further critical scrutiny (Bourdieu,1977).  For example, even as some columnists have linked “threat inflation” concerning ISIS to rationalizations for “the next dumb war,” such arguments have themselves been impressed into conservative intellectuals’ policy pronouncements: claims of fear mongering become evidence that the West isn’t frightened enough of the so-called Islamic State.  In response to such responses, progressives like U.S. Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders present the conservatives’ ‘Be Afraid, be Very Afraid’ type of arguments as extensions of neoliberal “Shock Doctrine” politics, which distracts the poor and the underserved as their labor and freedom are expropriated further. A tacit consensus that the so-called Islamic State must be/can only be discussed in relation to the phenomenon of fear organizes given assessments about ISIS, regardless of one’s manifest political position. And, in media at least, these seem to aggregate along a series of principal thematic axes:

Memory/Amnesia.   The threat posed by ISIS is compared to the consequences of forgetting the excesses of the ‘Red Scare,’ or the inverse: to ignoring the lessons that come with debunking the threat of communism and other historical dangers. (Under the banner of “Islamo-Fascism,” for example, a failure to respond to ISIS is likened to the appeasement of Nazi Germany in the 1930’s).  In a recursive turn, The American Conservative cautions that “laughing away Communism’s very real historical threat allows today‘s dangerous extremisms to escape cultural notice.”

Contagion.  A fear of ISIS, or the argument for its necessity, typically constellates with others.  The ISIS threat has been linked in syntagmatic fashion to:  Ebola, Mexican Migrants, the Drug Wars and Cartels, Anthropogenic Climate Change, and –in challenges to these— a stupidity epidemic that is itself to be feared.  Most significantly, discussions of ISIS link with unquestioned assumptions about contagion via social media, as expressed in fears of “susceptibility” to “radicalization” via Twitter.  Research bodies, like the Brookings Institution, now conduct censuses of ISIS Twitter traffic, presumably in order to understand the viral model of social media radicalization.  In what may be the most important of all the ways contagion interpolates fear, the brutal forms of sexual domination practiced by the so-called Islamic State against Christian and Shi’a women appear in assessments of the ISIS as evidence of a eugenic project that is somehow more terrifying than the “rape camps” and forms of ethnic cleansing-by-insemination carried out by Serbs in Bosnia.

Apotropaism.  The “radicalization” arguments often introduce an obverse theme: that ISIS “games” social media/twitter as it resorts to apotropaic gestures and images – that is, in presentations of mass killings, beheadings, and the destruction of monuments that are intended to scandalize and horrify opponents.  Since the publication of Freud’s “Medusa’s Head,”(1922) the apotropaic image has been intricately linked with a psychopathology of fear. (Freud, SE, XVII). But here, frightening gestures and images are paired with related contraries: the modern and the archaic.  Cautions about ISIS either link their apotropaic gestures to a form of savvy and contemporary social entrepreneurship that must be feared because it is ahead of the curve, and/or the inverse, to a hatred of the modern that is even more chilling.  As U.S. Senator Ted Cruz put it, because the Islamic state rejects Modernity, the task of the West is to help ISIS by bombing it “back to the Stone Age.”
The themes reviewed above are by no means exhaustive. They are only intended to stimulate thinking about the working question of the Workshop and journal issue, which is whether the most salient feature of current assessments of ISIS is the political status of fear in those same assessments. If our aim is to set aside discussions concerning the legitimacy of arguments that ISIS is or isn’t an existential threat, this is largely so that contributors can examine the instrumentalism characteristic to such arguments, which typically posit that fear of –or the terror caused by– ISIS is deployed to achieve known ends.  We invite submissions that focus instead on the modalities, circulation, and political status of the given association of ISIS with fear in a world full of other dangers that are seldom if ever represented so unselfconsciously in connection with the anxiety they cause.

To be certain, the tactics and practices of ISIS are profoundly terrifying. And yet, those tactics and practices aren’t sufficient to explain the ‘framing’ of ISIS in the ordering of contemporary political argument.  They are neither unique to ISIS, nor unprecedented in their own right.  A different kind of critical reflection is called for, and we invite methodologically diverse critical approaches capable of assessing the career of already-given assessments.


Contributors are invited to submit abstracts of between 1000 and 1500 words by 15 May 2016.   Submissions should include:  paper title, full author name, title, position/affiliation, and a short bio blurb (not to exceed 100 words).  Although no keywords are required at the time of abstract submission we will ask the authors of accepted papers to submit a list of searchable keywords and a paper abstract prior to the workshop.  All submissions should be submitted to They will be reviewed by members of the War Seminar International Advisory Board and the CSoS editors.

War Seminar Proceedings/Guide for Participants:

Thanks to the robust webhosting capacity of the Colgate University’s new ‘War Room’ –a purpose-built facility– War Seminars typically include contributors who attend the workshops in situ, and participants from around the globe who join the conference via a dedicated web-conferencing platform.   Video streams of each session will be captured for edited content in a new War Seminar site (currently under construction), as will other content.  Each War Seminar meeting functions as an occasion to workshop the papers that will be submitted to Critical Studies on Security. After rigorous peer review, ‘Who’s Afraid of ISIS?’ will appear as a special journal issue.

Junior faculty and Doctoral candidates will be eligible for a small honorarium to cover a portion of their research and editorial expenses.

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