Bellagio Library/

Worrier State: Risk, Anxiety and Moral Panic in South Africa

by Nicky Falkof

Nicky Falkof participated in the Bellagio residency program in 2018. During this residency she worked on Worrier State: Risk, Anxiety and Moral Panic in South Africa. Nicky is an Associate Professor in the Media Studies department of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. She holds an interdisciplinary PhD in Humanities and Cultural Studies from the University of London, and her research is concerned with race and anxiety in the media, with a particular interest in whiteness.

A few words with Nicky

“I wrote one chapter of the book at Bellagio, the most personally demanding one, about farm murders and white supremacy. This entailed a lot of time spent in dark corners of the internet, looking at videos and websites that were both distressing and enraging.

“The calm and stability of the villa provided a valuable foundation for this challenging work, allowing me to immerse myself in hateful material without drowning in it. This section of the book is better for it – more measured, less furious, clearer in its purpose. The kind of research that I do can easily turn into spectacular but ultimately hollow displays of rage-bait, and I feel as though my experience at Bellagio – the seriousness with which my work was taken – helped to avoid that.”


Risk, anxiety and moral panic are endemic to contemporary societies. How do these phenomena manifest in a place like South Africa, which features heightened insecurity, deep inequality and accelerated social change? And what happens when cultures of fear intersect with pervasive systems of gender, race and class?

Worrier State investigates four case studies in which fear and anxiety appear in radically different ways – the far right myth of ‘white genocide’, so-called ‘Satanist’ murders of young women, an urban legend about township crime, and social theories about safety and goodness in the suburbs.

Falkof foregrounds the significance of emotion as a socio-political force, emphasising South Africa’s imbrication within globalised conditions of anxiety and thus its fundamental and often-ignored hypermodernity. The book offers a bold and creative perspective on the social roles of fear and emotion in South Africa and thus on everyday life.

Explore More

To find out more about Nicky’s work, visit her website. You can also read her first-person perspective on crisis in South Africa with First Post or “Reading List” in Africa is a Country. Or you can simply follow her on Twitter.

(Photo: Thom Pierce)