Ruth Wodak: The Politics of Fear

Made in IWM

From September 2018 to May 2019 and from February to September 2020, Ruth Wodak was a Senior Visiting Fellow at the IWM. During her fellowship she worked on the second, revised edition of her book “The Politics of Fear. The Shameless Normalization of Far-Right Discourse,” which was released by SAGE in December 2020. In January 2021, Ruth Wodak was awarded the Bruno Kreisky Prize 2021 for her Lifetime Achievements (publizistisches Gesamtwerk).

Fear Eats the Soul

A Commentary by Miloš Vec

There are several features I simply love in Ruth Wodak’s work. The recently issued second edition of The Politics of Fear. The Shameless Normalization of Far-Right Discourse (SAGE 2021) is a brilliant example of what I admire in her academic writing. Probably the most compelling quality for me is the engagement of its many theoretical discourses with practical evidence. All of her claims and theses are very clearly elaborated and then backed with rich, recent empirical evidence, including not only quotes from a vast variety of literary genres but also visual sources like posters, photographs, media screenshots, and cartoons. All this is supported by a typography and layout that make it extremely easy to follow the line of argumentation and the use of detailed examples. I cannot recall any other book from the field of discourse analysis that appealed as much to me in its style.

“Ali: Fear Eats the Soul” is the title of a famous 1974 West German movie by director Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Its original German title, “Angst essen Seele auf,” is linguistically clear about the modification of German grammar by a non-native speaker – the meaning intended would be expressed more correctly as “Die Angst isst die Seele auf.” This is important as the movie depicts an unhappy love affair between a young North African immigrant and a middle-aged German woman. The very unconventional couple is faced with overwhelming rejection and destructive hatred in 1970s Munich (the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre plays an explicit role with regard to the perception of Arabs). One can only imagine how Fassbinder, who died in 1982, would have perceived today’s political climate and the discourse about migration and migrants. Already the shift in which subject feels fear is striking. In Fassbinder’s movie it is the Arab migrant who formulates the iconic statement “Fear Eats the Soul” whereas today’s far-right politicians talk about the fears of the imagined community of “authentic” people – and keep quiet about those others who have experienced terrifying things.

[ read the full text here ]

Miloš Vec was IWM Permanent Fellow (2016-2020) and is Professor of Legal History at the University of Vienna.
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Deutsche Ausgabe

Ruth Wodak politics of Fear German Version Cover. A close up picture of a barbed wire fence. 

Ruth Wodak, Politik mit der Angst: Die schamlose Normalisierung rechtspopulistischer und rechtsextremer Diskurse, Wien: Edition Konturen, 2020, Zweite, völlig überarbeitete Auflage, ISBN 9783902968562.