The Concept Of Moral Panics Essay

2694 words - 11 pages

The Concept of Moral Panics
A moral panic is said to occur when the media mobilises public opinion
around the condemnation of deviance ("Media coverage of deviance:
moral panics", lecture handout, 07-10-02). Deviance, in this context,
refers to the violation of social norms and values, and the subsequent
disruption of social order. This essay will begin with a clarification
of the terms 'moral panic' and 'deviance' and outline how the two
concepts are related. It will then describe the processes of news
reporting while making reference to Stanley Cohen's established case
study of the 1964 Bank Holiday fracas in Clacton, England as an
example of such a media-fuelled moral panic.

As briefly mentioned in the introduction, deviance occurs when people
behave in a manner that is contrary to established social norms. In
general, people are taught or conditioned to conduct themselves in a
'socially acceptable' manner, and theoretically, this management of
peoples' behaviour ensures social cohesion and order. However, a
number of questions are raised when one considers 'normal' social
behaviour. For example, what is and is not socially acceptable? Who
decides what is and is not acceptable? Do innate right and wrongs
exist? And if they do, are these values upheld by a social consensus?

Opinions on deviance fall into one of two categories. Firstly, an
absolutist view assumes that a social consensus on deviance does
exist, and that deviance is a threat to managed social security and
order and should be strongly discouraged. The opposite view is a
relativist one, which acknowledges that a range of value systems exist
and that these values are entirely subjective. Relativists question
the basis of social order and appreciate that the more powerful groups
within a society impose their value systems on others. Leslie Wilkins
in her extract titled "Information and the definition of deviance"
(Cohen and Young, 1974, p.36) supports this relativist view and uses
culture to illustrate how deviance is subjective. She explains how
many cultures prior to Western contact held definitions of normality
which were out of accord with existing Western values. However, once
the cultures made contact, the Western interlopers would redefine the
indigenous cultures' perceptions of normality and deviance. Thus,
distinct value systems do exist, but the more powerful groups in a
society routinely impose their own values on others.

The mass media is a crucial influence on the public perception of
deviance. When it focuses on deviance, it shapes opinions on what
constitutes deviant behaviour and "provides a symbolic cement for a
consensus of values" ("Media coverage of deviance: moral panics",
lecture handout, 07-10-02). And as previously stated, when the media's
focus on such deviance...

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