Research context

Cultures of fear can be propagated, either deliberately or unwittingly, by a wide range of agents including the media, government, science, the arts, industry and politics. The ease with which fear can be generated means that today’s society remains inordinately fearful of improbable harms and dangers. A good deal of societal fear stems from mistrust of the Other; a term used to describe individuals or groups that are, quite simply, ‘not like us’. It is argued that practices of Othering, and the continuous interpretation of difference, are essential for the construction of cultural and societal identity, the term is typically used in contexts where the Other are seen as “anomalous,” “peculiar,” or “deviant”, and hence negatively perceived, stigmatised, excluded, marginalised and discriminated against.

The focus of this project is on the cultures of fear that are propagated through online Othering and subsequent mistrust of groups or communities. The specific challenge addressed is to generate an understanding of how the deliberate design, and orchestrated deployment, of digital and social media, and online interactive experiences more broadly, can influence and oppose cultures of fear and result in cultures of empathy that can actively, and strategically, reduce or eliminate mistrust and negative consequences of Othering.

How the project came about

In early 2014 the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), in partnership with other funders, commissioned new research ‘to develop a greater understanding of how empathy and trust are developed, maintained, transformed and lost in social media interactions’ (ESRC 2014). This funding call was named by the ESRC as EMoTICON – Empathy and Trust in Communicating Online.

To encourage innovative and transdisciplinary thinking, the ESRC commissioned projects via a sandpit process. The sandpit was an intensive five-day event in which a diverse group of 25 participants from a range of disciplines and backgrounds collaborated to generate, develop and present project ideas within the scope of EMoTICON. The initial ideas for this project emerged during this sandpit.


Find out more about the project, and what we are aiming to achieve with the research:


Project Team