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Moral panic - panic of the other

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Moral panic - panic of the other Moral panic is a widely used and often misinterpreted concept in social sciences. The term was invented by the British sociologist Stanley Cohen the late sixties. Cohen defined moral panic as a form of collective behaviour during which: "A condition, episode, person or group emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests; its nature is presented in a stylised and stereotypical fashion by the mass media; the moral barricades are manned by editors, bishops, politicians and other right thinking people; socially accredited experts pronounce their diagnosis and solutions; ways of coping are evolved or (more often) resorted to; the condition then disappears, submerges or deteriorates and becomes visible " (Cohen 1972: 9). Cohen was using this term for a phenomenon in Great Britain in his book Folk Devils and Moral Panics primarily about the rockers who vandalised in a small town in the early 60'. American scholars quickly adopted, used (and often overused) this term. Goode and Ben-Yehuda presented and analysed various moral panics through history and tried to search for common indicators. According to their definition "A moral panic is characterised by the feeling, held by a substantial number of the members of a given society, that evil-doers pose a threat to the society and to the moral order as a consequence of their behaviour and, therefore, "something should be done" about them and their behaviour." ...read more.


3. Consensus - Consensus of a part of the population that the threat exists, and it is and serious. 4. Disproportionality - The estimated numbers of cases and the extent of the harm is much greater than can be verified empirical investigations. This is a very important element of moral panic, since it is crucial to decide if the concern is actually a moral panic or not. 5. Volatility - It erupts and disappears suddenly. (Goode and Ben-Yehuda 1994:33-39). Horsfield criticized the concept of moral panic from various points of views. He claims that Cohen (and Goode and Ben-Yehuda) try to avoid defining deviance as accepted and unquestionable, however, the "model of moral panics requires a structure of norm and deviance as a hermeneutical device". He also criticises the term "panic". Psychologically it is associated with being out of control or acting irrationally, whereas, moral panics are often very much rational acts. The word is "associated with the actions of an irrational and undirected mob in contrast to the measured and rational actions of rulers". Moral panic includes both legal and illegal activities (drug problem, football hooliganism, vandalism) that - according to Horsfield - cause the indiscriminate and inappropriate understanding of the concept. He also suggests to question whether the concept of moral is as coherent as the concept of moral panic suggests (Horsfield, 1997). ...read more.


According to the number of articles in the mass media and the public discourse there seems to be a consensus about the fact, that this a problem to be solved. I am not going to give examples about the disproportionality of the panic, but doing survey on the Internet is a very debatable fact in sociology nowadays. The most debatable statistics regarding cyberporn done by Rimm and published in Georgetown Law Journal in 1995 states that "83,5% of all images posted on the Usenet are pornographic". Although this number has lost its authority in the academic circles, the public and political discourse is still often relies on it. It became part of the public discourse. According to Goode and Ben-Yehuda the last indicator of moral panic is its volatility, it comes and goes quickly. I would suggest that this moral panic today is in its passing stage. The panic is passing away and pushing back our fears of the "other" who uses pornographic images. This moral panic will pass away by creating laws and creating court cases. It is passing with "solving" the problem, with forcing the non-existing boundaries between those who enjoy looking pornographic pictures and those who do not. It stopped our work on the question of pornography, on questioning the need of pornography, on questioning our relation to sexuality. Indeed it increased the feeling of shame and guilt about pornography, and paved the road for the next moral panic. ...read more.

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