Russ Castronovo

Nov 30, 2023

American Insecurity and the Origins of Vulnerability

Princeton University Press 2023

An incisive critique that examines the origins of contemporary American ideas about surveillance, terrorism, and white supremacy.

For more than three centuries, Americans have pursued strategies of security that routinely make them feel vulnerable, unsafe, and insecure. American Insecurity and the Origins of Vulnerability (Princeton UP, 2023) probes this paradox by examining American attachments to the terror of the sublime, the fear of uncertainty, and the anxieties produced by unending racial threat. 

Challenging conventional approaches that leave questions of security to policy experts, Russ Castronovo turns to literature, philosophy, and political theory to show how security provides an organizing principle for collective life in ways that both enhance freedom and limit it. His incisive critique ranges from frontier violence and white racial anxiety to insurgent Black print culture and other forms of early American terror, uncovering the hidden logic of insecurity that structures modern approaches to national defense, counterterrorism, cybersecurity, surveillance, and privacy. 

Drawing on examples from fiction, journalism, tracts, and pamphlets, Castronovo uncovers the deep affective attachments that Americans have had since the founding to the sources of fear and insecurity that make them feel unsafe. Timely and urgent, American Insecurity and the Origins of Vulnerability sheds critical light on how and why the fundamental political desire for security promotes unease alongside assurance and fixates on risk and danger while clamoring for safety.

Brittney Edmonds is an Assistant Professor of Afro-American Studies at UW-Madison. I specialize in 20th and 21st century African American Literature and Culture with a special interest in Black Humor Studies. Read more about my work at brittneymichelleedmonds.com.

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Brittney Edmonds

Brittney Edmonds is an Assistant Professor of Afro-American Studies at UW-Madison. I specialize in 20th and 21st century African American Literature and Culture with a special interest in Black Humor Studies. Read more about my work at brittneymichelleedmonds.com.

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