Moral Panics in the Contemporary World
Cohen suggested that there are five key sets of actors involved in the process of moral panic. They are the threat that incites the moral panic, which Cohen referred to as "folk devils," and the enforcers of rules or laws, like institutional authority figures, police, or armed forces. The news media plays its role by breaking the news about the threat and continuing to report on it, thereby setting the agenda for how it is discussed and attaching visual symbolic images to it. Enter politicians, who respond to the threat and sometimes fan the flames of the panic, and the public, which develops a focused concern about the threat and demands action in response to it.
Many sociologists have observed that those in power ultimately benefit from moral panics, since they lead to increased control of the population and the reinforcement of the authority of those in charge. Others have commented that moral panics offer a mutually beneficial relationship between news media and the state.
For the media, reporting on threats that become moral panics increases viewership and makes money for news organizations. For the state, the creation of a moral panic can give it cause to enact legislation and laws that would seem illegitimate without the perceived threat at the center of the moral panic. There have been many moral panics throughout history, some quite notable.
The journalist, folk devil : Sussex Research Online
The Salem witch trials, which took place throughout colonial Massachusetts in , are an oft-mentioned example of this phenomenon. Women who were social outcasts faced accusations of witchcraft after local girls were afflicted with unexplained fits. Following the initial arrests, accusations spread to other women in the community who expressed doubt about the claims or who responded to them in ways deemed improper or inappropriate.
This particular moral panic served to reinforce and strengthen the social authority of local religious leaders, since witchcraft was perceived to be a threat to Christian values, laws, and order. When gathering together the nicknames Trump produced, one is struck by how they refuse categorization in terms that could in any way be recognizable as conservative—or even political—values in the traditional sense.
Trump had thus found his place—creatively—within the politico-moral culture of the American civil sphere. Furthermore, in this arena of his own making we can see elements of an emergent moral panic. This article has described how, because moral panics and charismatic enthusiasm implicate alternately distinct, complementary, and unitary processes within socially constituted moral systems, the models of Weber and Cohen, when taken together, offer a more robust and theoretically profitable vision of moral denaturation and reformulation than would be on offer by either of them, taken in isolation.
This they do, however, with respect to opposite ends of the moral spectrum. While there have been discussions in the past about the co-presence of folk heroes and folk devils Eliade  ; Smith ; or descriptions of interpretive processes of transition between heroic and devilish statuses Katz ; Warren ; Joosse b : 81—5; Joosse et al. With its focus on processes co-instantiation , this article has sought to provide a more detailed interactional account of how charismatic agency holds causal significance within processes of moral panic.
What might account for the lack of such synthetic attempts in the past? No doubt the balkanization between sociology and criminology bears some responsibility. Just as surely, the disconnect is a product of generational and normative factors. McRobbie ; Walsh ]. It recognizes that traditional values cannot be taken for granted as the cultural centre of gravity to which all moral manifestations will eventually be drawn.
While these Durkheimian aspects of moral panic theory have been discussed by others Garland ; Reed , and while others have pointed to the increasingly contradictory and complex nature of the field of power in which moral panics operate Hier ; McRobbie and Thornton , it is really the comparison with Weber that shows the route toward drawing more fully on the promise—first made with the emergence of New Deviancy Theory—of decoupling the sociology of morality from some out-dated reference points within structural-functionalism Abend Indeed, an acknowledgement of this charismatic agency helps to account even for the appearance of morally defiant and otherwise inscrutable figures like Donald Trump.
I would like to thank Editor Sandra Walkate and anonymous reviewers at the British Journal of Criminology for their helpful comments on an earlier version of this article. Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University's objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide.
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Google Preview. Good Moral Panics? Because of space constraints, my intention is not to engage too deeply with the obstreperous task of weaving together the profuse and divergent literatures that have been built upon Weber and Cohen. Weber described St. See note 3 for further discussion on this point.
See Joosse b : 57—64 for a description of how different groups compete in this fictionalizing process. Curiel in order to question his ability to preside over a class action case against the defunct Trump University. People like what I say. People respect what I say. Scheler ; Ranulf et al. For debates and alternative formulations of this idea, see Austin  , Butler and Derrida Collins, J. Moral panics, governmentality, and the media: A comparative approach to the analysis of illegal drug use in the news.
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Failure to launch: Why do some issues fail to detonate moral panics? British Journal of Criminology, 49 , 35— Jewkes, Y. Media and crime. London: SAGE. Kepplinger, H. The impact of key events upon the presentation of reality. European Journal of Communication, 10 , — Kitzinger, J. Framing abuse. London: Pluto. Klocke, B. A hybrid model of moral panics: synthesizing the theory and practice of moral panic research. Sociology Compass, 4 , — Krinsky, C. Moral panics over contemporary children and youth.
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The Ashgate research companion to moral panics. Kubrin, C. Punishing immigrants: Policy, politics, and injustice. Lemmings, D. Moral panics, the media, and the law in early modern England. Basingstoke, U. Levi, M. Suite revenge? The shaping of folk devils and moral panics about white collar crimes. British Journal of Criminology, 49 , 48— Linneman, T.
Mad men, meth moms, moral panic: Gendering meth crimes in the Midwest.
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Journal of Drug Issues, 4 4 , — Pain, R. The new geopolitics of fear. Geography Compass, 4 3 , — Parker, H. Illegal leisure: The normalization of adolescent recreational drug use. Pearce, J. A social psychological approach to understanding moral panic. Philo, G. Bad news for refugees. Rohloff, A. Moral panics in the contemporary world: Enduring controversies and future directions. London: Bloomsbury. Rothe, D. Enemies everywhere: Terrorism, moral panic, and US civil society. Critical Criminology, 12 3 , — Shafir, G. The war on terror as political moral panic.
Shafir, E. Aceves Eds. Thompson, K. Moral panics. Toivonen, T. Moral panic versus youth problem debates: Three conceptual insights from the study of Japanese youth. Ungar, S. Moral panic versus risk society: The implications of the changing sites of social anxiety. British Journal of Sociology, 52 , — Waddington, P. Mugging as a moral panic: A question of proportion. British Journal of Sociology, 37 , — Walby, K. How emotions matter to moral panics. Walsh, J. Moral panics by design: The case of terrorism. Current Sociology , 1— Warner, J.
The emotional politics of social work and child protection. Watney S. Homans Eds. London: Falmer Press. Weitzer, R The social construction of sex trafficking: Ideology and institutionalization of a moral crusade. Politics and Society, 35 , — Welch, M. Detained: Immigration laws and the expanding INS complex. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. Young, J. Moral panic: Its origins in resistance, ressentiment , and the translation of fantasy into reality. British Journal of Criminology, 49 , 4— Moral panics and the transgressive other.
The literature on moral panic is now so vast that a full bibliography would be longer than the main chapter. References are thus often confined to the most seminal or recent contributions. Many otherwise excellent pieces have been omitted. This has unwittingly produced an Anglo-American bias. Another aspect of authorial discretion is that the chapter pays as much attention to new and possibly future directions for the field as it does to an exposition of the established works.
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