Stanley Cohen's Concept of a Moral Panic

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  • Topic: Moral panic, Sociology, Stanley Cohen
  • Pages : 5 (1704 words )
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  • Published : January 30, 2011
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Stanley Cohen has become famous due to his brilliant works on sociology, criminology and human rights. His talent allowed him to depict human fears and concerns, conflicts between different social groups and human sufferings which resulted from these conflicts. Stanley Cohen’s career started to move in the upward direction with the publication of his first serious research in 1972. The book called “Folk Devils and Moral Panics” was devoted to the issues relevant to the British society in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Exactly in this book he introduced for the first time such a term as “moral panic”, which became rather widely used since then. The author of the book concentrated his attention on the rivalry of the two British “gangs” residing in Liverpool. Stanley Cohen analysed the ideology and behavior of both groups as well as the role of mass media in raising the conflict between them. The main goal of the current study is to speak about the concept of “moral panic” which was introduced by Stanley Cohen in his studies. The paper will also focus on the conflict between the Mods and Rockers which occurred at the early 1960’s in Great Britain. Stanley Cohen’s Concept of a Moral Panic

As it has been stated above it was Stanley Cohen who brought the concept of moral panic in the common usage. Before analyzing the term “moral panic” it is necessary to give a clear definition of it. A moral panic is kind of attitude or reaction of the society towards certain social groups or sub-cultures, which is based on ideas and beliefs that the given groups are very dangerous to the society. Thus, such groups are perceived as the major threat to the culture and social values, health and well-being of the people. According to Stanley Cohen, “societies appear to be subject, every now and then, to periods of moral panic” [2], this means that a moral panic is not something extraordinary and extremely dangerous. When such a phenomenon as moral panic appears in the society, “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 [2]. Exactly mass media and other institutions which directly deal with people, their opinions and views, which they extensively influence, create moral panics in the society. Being one of characteristic features of every society moral panics can be insignificant and have very little impact on society; however, they can also be rather serious and last during long periods of time and “might produce such changes as those in legal and social policy or even in the way the society conceives itself” [2]. The following factors characterize most fully the concept of moral panic: “a level of interest totally out of proportion to the real importance of the subject, some individuals building personal careers from the pursuit and magnification of the issue, and the replacement of reasoned debate with witchhunts and hysteria” [4]. Having exaggerated the issues mass media creates panics in the society by attracting its attention to the problems which not deserve so much attention and especially panic. Behaviour of young people is considered to be the most common theme of moral panics. However, not only groups of young people provoke moral panics in the society. A number of issues “ranging from crime and the activities of youth, to drugs and sexual freedom, each considered a threat to the moral fibre of society at that particular time- today is no exception” [3]. Speaking about the groups of youth being a subject of moral panics, it is necessary to emphasize the fact that very often young people are labelled as dangerous or deviant just because they behave differently as compared to other people. In some cases such behaviour is totally unacceptable, because it is associated with drug and alcohol...
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