Michael Mills

"Doomsday" prepping is a primarily American phenomenon centred on storing food, water, and weapons for the purpose of surviving serious social collapse. Growing rapidly post-2007/8, it is the successor to the extreme right-wing American survivalist movement that flourished (and then disappeared) in the late-20th century. This project engages with a lack of scholarly knowledge on prepping, which has resulted in this phenomenon being understood through media-driven stereotypes and theories of older survivalist activity. Such understandings suggest that prepping is apocalyptic, millenarian, politically-extreme, and a product of the United States’ fringe right-wing militia culture. Drawing on research that has involved 200 online surveys responses, ethnography with 39 preppers in eighteen American states, and attendance at numerous prominent prepping conventions, this project has sought to examine the accuracy of such ideas. Investigating the trajectory of prepping during the presidencies of Barack Obama and Donald Trump, this study attempts to formulate a more nuanced and accurate account of prepping's growth, its political character and significance, and its relationships with aspects of “mainstream” American society and late modern capitalism.


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

 Journal of Risk Research (2018)

Article Abstract: 

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 39 preppers in 18 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 twenty-first 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.