annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers location:Boston, MA, US date:15-19/04/2008
Our qualitative focus group research on feelings of insecurity in rural and suburban Flanders shows how fear of crime impacts on the everyday life of middle class ‘white’ Flemings. The study reveals a widespread fear of cities like Brussels, Antwerp or Mechelen and of so-called ‘islands of otherness’ outside these cities. The respondents adapt their behaviour in these places, especially after dark, and avoid certain neighbourhoods or even complete cities. The paper argues that this spatial behaviour is mainly inspired by fear of ‘strangers’, visibly racialised ‘others’ in particular. As this ethnocentric fear of otherness is closely associated with a politicized culture of fear and the racialisation of space, we do not only connect the observed geography of fear with the metaphorical racialisation of the Flemish landscape, but also with the geography of ethnocentrism and the rise of the extreme-right political party Vlaams Belang in rural and suburban Flanders. In this way, we demonstrate that the notions of fear of crime, race and ethnocentrism are central in the social, cultural and emotional construction of the Flemish rural and suburban landscape.