The Concept of the Moral Panic: An Historico-Sociological Positioning

  • David Rowe


This opening paragraph by Stanley Cohen is among the most cited in the sociology of deviance and the media. Indeed, as Critcher observes, many users of the concept of the moral panic quote no more than this passage and extrapolate from single case studies to a much more extensive sociocultural condition, meaning that ‘Ironically “moral panic” has itself become a label, its application used as proof that little more need be said’.1 The concept of the moral panic has also entered the popular lexicon via the sociological dictionary in a comparatively short time and in numerous, multiplying discursive sites. To take a fairly random and unlikely example, the Higher Education Funding Council for England, in launching a report on university subject areas that are strategically important and vulnerable, is reported as using it in seeking to allay anxiety, with a story opening in the education press as follows:

There is no need for a ‘great moral panic’ if university courses close in future, funding chiefs declared this week ….2


Social Anxiety Compassion Fatigue Moral Panic Risk Society Public Service Broadcast 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© David Rowe 2009

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  • David Rowe

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