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Moral Panic

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Moral panic
One concept developed by the social sciences to help make sense of such processes is moral panic. This term was explored by Stanley Cohen in the early 1970s:
Societies appear to be subject, every now and then, to periods of moral panic. A condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests; its nature is presented in a stylized and stereotypical fashion by the mass media; the moral barricades are manned by editors, bishops, politicians and other right thinking people; socially accredited experts pronounce their diagnoses and solutions, ways of coping are evolved
(Cohen, 1973, p. 9)
Cohen's study focused on the social reaction to the mods and rockers’ ‘disturbances’ in Clacton on Easter Monday, 1964. Cohen shows how media reaction, to what were in the main small-scale scuffles and vandalism, blew the whole event out of proportion. Newspaper headlines spoke of a ‘Day of Terror’ with Clacton being invaded by a mob ‘hell- bent on destruction’. The media's response served only to whip-up a wider public concern about a breakdown in morality. Cohen described this as a deviancy amplification spiral. The initial outbreak of abnormal behaviour generated an enormous media reaction, in part because it made such a good news story. This in turn forced the police to intervene more strongly in subsequent disturbances, thereby increasing the numbers arrested, and leading to a spiral of increasing police Activity and public concern. Rising numbers of arrests seemed only to justify the initial concerns and the policing strategies adopted. The cycle of events is outlined in the diagram below.
Cohen focuses on mods and rockers. Other researchers have looked at the teddy boy disturbances in the supposedly peaceful and law-abiding 1950s. Can you think of other more recent examples of moral panics which may have a criminal dimension or are considered threats to order perhaps associated with ‘immoral’ and... [continue…...

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