Molotch (Sociology/New York Univ.; Where Stuff Comes From, 2005, etc.) profiles the workings of our anxieties and fears and how they can be exploited by authorities who have an interest in stoking them.
The author is concerned with the complex systems that permit us to feel safe in public places. He traces a path from public toilet facilities through subways and airports to the reconstruction of ground zero before taking on the catastrophic effects of nature in the hurricane damage and flooding of New Orleans in 2005. Molotch treats each phase of the narrative separately and considers the design and organization of space, entries and exits, fields of vision and patterns of activity, whether encouraged or not. The author’s approach to public spaces as an environment permits an insightful, provocative treatment of whether the security we seek is fostered or not—and if so, how. Public toilet facilities in New York City evoke the same kinds of anxieties and fears of public humiliation as the procedures at airport security inspections. Molotch considers that large numbers of people often increase the sense of danger instead of security, especially because of the difficulties of exiting. Political priorities, bureaucratic ineptitude and panic also figure as contributors to our fear. The author argues for the “default to decency” approach, and he recommends improvements intended to encourage confidence and promote cooperation.
A humane, well-researched examination of privacy and security issues.