Moral Panics

Moral Panics

Moral Panics

Moral Panics


It is widely acknowledged that this is the age of moral panics. From the Bulger case to mad cow disease, newspaper headlines continually warn of some new danger and television programmes echo the theme with sensational docmenturies. This concise survey will help student trace the development of ideas of moral panic and to analyse how changing public perceptions are shaped and reflected through the media over time. Using examples drawn from: * club culture and raves * mugging * sex and AIDS * children, violence and the family.


Although the central concern of this book is with one of sociology's key ideas-moral panics-the title might have been lengthened to Moral Panics and the Media to indicate an intention to bring together subjects and sets of literature that frequently overlap but where the connections between them have not been fully explored by sociologists. Moral panics have been the preserve of sociologists of collective behaviour and social deviance. Media sociologists, for their part, have tended to regard moral panics as exceptional phenomena and not central to their field. Furthermore, the 'moral' element in moral panics has tended to be glossed over by those sociologists who have adopted the term, with little concern for its place within a wider sociology of morals (including beliefs and ideologies) (see K. Thompson 1986; W. Thompson 1990a) and in relation to changing forms of moral regulation (K. Thompson 1997). Sometimes panics about food (e.g. the BSE scare about infected beef) or health have been confused with panics that relate directly to morals.

In fact, the theoretical status of the concept of moral panics has been surprisingly neglected. Its meaning is taken to be self-evident and it is used not only by sociologists but also by the mass media. As such, it provides a good example of the explanatory problems faced by social science because they concern a 'pre-interpreted' world of lay meanings, thus involving what Anthony Giddens has called a 'double hermeneutic':

There is a two-way connection between the language of social science and ordinary language. The former cannot ignore the categories used by laymen in the practical organization of social life; but on the other hand, the concepts of social science may also be taken over and applied by laymen as elements of their conduct. Rather than treating the latter as something to be avoided or minimized as far as possible, as inimical to the interests of 'prediction', we should understand it as integral to the subject-subject relation involved in the social sciences.

(Giddens 1977:12) . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.