A woman walks alone in a dark alley. Photo by renee_mcgurk via Flickr.
While opinions of particular environments, situations, or objects may appear to be objectively dangerous or safe, sociologists argue otherwise. Instead, they find that opinions about safety are subjective. While there is a physical reality of harm and fear, beliefs about safety and danger spread through socialization, rather than direct observation. For example, Simpson notes that snakes and turtles can both cause illness and death through the transmission of venom or bacteria, yet snakes are seen as dangerous and turtles as benign. In other words, danger and safety do not exist on their own; they are contextual.
Socialized beliefs about safety and danger are also raced, classed, and gendered. While statistics indicate that men are predominantly the victims of violent crime, women express greater fear of crime. This fear often acts as a form of social control by limiting women’s daily activities, like when they leave the house and what they wear. Furthermore, the construction of fear and crime is often tied to racist legacies. In the United States, white women express prejudicial fear about areas marked as “dangerous” or “sketchy,” due to the occupation of this space by men of color.
Safety and danger are also constructed at the international level, as national security is politicized. For example, instances of large-scale political violence, such as genocide, war, and acts of terrorism revolve around the social construction of an enemy. More generally, national enemies are constructed as dangerous and a threat to the safety of a nation’s people. This construction of the enemy and perception of fear can move people to join terrorist organizations, participate in genocidal regimes, and enlist in state militaries.