Introducing: Louise Boyle

Louise Boyle is currently undertaking a PhD in the School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, University of Glasgow, and supervised by Prof. Chris Philo and Dr. Cheryl McGeachan. She can be contacted by e-mail: l.boyle.1@research.gla.ac.uk, or Twitter @Louise_eb

Louise Boyle

Running into the SAnD: a social and anticipatory geography of Social Anxiety Disorder (SAnD) in on- and offline worlds

Social Anxiety Disorder (SAnD) is currently defined as: ‘a persistent fear of one or more social situations where embarrassment may occur and the fear of anxiety is out of proportion with the actual threat posed by the social situation as determined by the person’s cultural norms. Typical social situations can be grouped into those that involve interaction, observation and performance’ (NICE, 2013). SAnD is hence a ‘situational’ or ‘environmental’ condition, often triggered by ‘embarrassing’ experiences in particular situations/environments which generate anxiety-drenched anticipations of what potentially could ‘go wrong’ for someone in future (roughly equivalent) settings. As such, the experience of SAnD ruptures the fabrics, places and spaces of everyday life; and SAnD is hence fundamentally geographical, necessarily bound up in an intimate social geography of experience where anxiety, fear and embarrassment occur across a range of social settings.

SAnD is also a thoroughly anticipatory condition whereby such anticipations shape and inhibit future conducts, movements and relationships, sometimes shutting them down completely with serious implications for career, sociality and well-being. Where the individual seeks to avoid these anticipated ‘bad’ experiences, they can reduce their social geography to one of lonely home-bound isolation. Crucially, the condition works temporally in both directions, with memories of (real or imagined) past embarrassments, and their settings, being projected forward into anticipations of future difficulties. Arguably, such projections are ‘irrational’: nonetheless, empathetic insight into the condition requires that these irrationalities are met with an ethics of open-handed care and concern, striving to enter their own strange dynamics and associations.

The purpose of this project will hence be to develop geographical narratives of SAnD experience that open up specific individual, situational and environmental factors integral to triggering anticipations of future anxious episodes. These narratives will also consider subsequent changes in how individuals utilise everyday spaces, and with what implications for them. Particular attention will be given to where their anxieties intersect with those conveyed in broader representations of an anxious modern age, assessing whether such representations may themselves be reflected in, or even productive of, individual SAnD anxieties. Developing these geographical narratives does more than just uncover the places and spaces that shape, and are shaped by, SAnD experience; they will disclose individuals’ coping strategies, struggles to attain ‘recovery’ and possible engagement with other people enduring SAnD. As with the similar anxiety disorders there is a reason to suppose that people with SAnD benefit from online interactions with other SAnD ‘sufferers’, and a further component of the research will ask about the extent/character of an online SAnD community (and how it then connects back to lives lived offline).

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