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Preparing for the unknown… unknowns: ‘doomsday’ prepping and disaster risk anxiety in the United States

Mills, Michael F. (2018) Preparing for the unknown… unknowns: ‘doomsday’ prepping and disaster risk anxiety in the United States. Journal of Risk Research, . ISSN 1366-9877. (doi:10.1080/13669877.2018.1466825)

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This article examines the collapse-based thinking energising “doomsday” prepping: a growing American phenomenon centred on storing food, water, and weapons for the purpose of surviving disasters. Existing understandings of prepping indicate that its practitioners are driven to prepare by peculiar and delusional certainty that apocalyptic collapse will occur in the near future. This view, however, has not yet been tested by empirical research. This article draws on ethnography with thirty-nine preppers in eighteen American states to present a new understanding of this phenomenon, as it shows prepping consistently being practiced in the absence of both apocalyptic predictions and certainty regarding the future occurrence of disaster. Demonstrating that preppers’ activities are undergirded by precautionary projections around numerous non-apocalyptic “threats”, the article argues that prepping principally responds to uncertain anxieties around disaster risks. Moreover, it establishes that these imprecise anxieties are regularly influenced by preppers’ consumption of disaster-based speculation in mainstream news media – showing that their concerns tend to emerge in response to numerous disaster risks that are widely reported and recognised in wider American culture, rather than marginal conceptions of “threats”. The article therefore contends that, rather than being a marginal apocalyptic practice, prepping is a phenomenon with clear, previously unacknowledged links to broader risk communications and concerns in the 21st century United States – one that must be understood as a reflection of the broader resonance of disaster-based speculation and uncertainty in this cultural context.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1080/13669877.2018.1466825
Uncontrolled keywords: Anxiety; Disaster; Precaution; United States; Risk Perception
Subjects: H Social Sciences
Divisions: Faculties > Social Sciences > School of Social Policy Sociology and Social Research > Criminology
Depositing User: Michael Mills
Date Deposited: 09 May 2018 15:25 UTC
Last Modified: 26 Oct 2019 23:00 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
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