Exploring the Theory of Moral Panic and Deviance Amplification with Stanford Cohen
In 1972, Stanford Cohen introduced the concept of the Theory of Moral Panic and deviance amplification in his book Folk Devils and Moral Panics. This theory argues that a certain group or type of behavior can receive disproportionate media attention, leading to widespread condemnation and an exaggerated perception of risk. In this blog post, we will explore what this theory is all about, who are some key players in it, and how it works.
What is Moral Panic?
Moral panic is a social phenomenon characterized by fear or anxiety about a perceived threat posed by a particular group or type of behavior. These panics are often caused by sensationalized media coverage that focuses on the alleged harms posed by the group or behavior in question. As a result, people tend to overestimate the actual risk associated with the group or behavior in question. For example, one such example was youngsters, mainly teenage boys, wearing hoodies and the garment became synonymous with crime; a moral panic encouraged by sensationalist media of linking street crime with hoodie-wearing boys.
Stanford Cohen’s Theory of Moral Panic
Cohen’s work argued that when moral panics occur, they are fueled by “moral entrepreneurs” who use their platform to demonize the targeted group or behavior. These moral entrepreneurs can be anyone from politicians to religious leaders to celebrities—anyone who has influence over public opinion. They use symbols to represent the targeted group or behavior and emphasize its supposed dangers and risks. This creates an environment where even innocent members of the targeted group face persecution due to their association with it, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy whereby those labeled as deviant become deviant because they have been labeled as such.
Jock Young’s Contribution
Cohen’s work was further developed by Jock Young in his 1973 book The New Criminology: For A Social Theory Of Deviance. Young argued that society amplifies deviance through labeling processes and other forms of social control that create an environment where even minor violations become criminalized. He argued that these labels lead to more serious offenses being committed because people feel like they have nothing else left to lose once they have already been labeled as criminals. As such, deviance amplification occurs when minor infractions become serious crimes due to labeling processes and other forms of social control that society uses against marginalized groups and individuals.
Stanford Cohen’s work on moral panic and deviance amplification has had far-reaching implications for our understanding of how crime is perceived in modern society. His theory helps explain why certain groups or behaviors may receive disproportionate amounts of attention from media outlets, leading to widespread condemnation and an exaggerated perception of risk associated with them. Jock Young’s contribution furthered this idea by arguing that labeling processes lead individuals to commit more serious offenses as they feel like they have nothing else left to lose once they have been labeled as criminals. Understanding these theories can help us better understand how crime is viewed in our society today, as well as find ways to address issues surrounding inequality without resorting to criminalization or punitive measures.
Why not watch an A-Level Sociology video on: What are the Effects of Labelling Theory?