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    Stanley cohen folk devils and moral panics

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  • Название: Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The creation of the Mods and Rockers
  • Описание: Humanities
  • Автор: Stanley Cohen

Folk Devils and Moral Panics
‘. . . a brilliant and subtle exercise in “grounded theory”.’
Stuart Hall, Emeritus Professor, The Open University
‘Richly documented and convincingly presented’
New Society


Folk Devils and Moral Panics
The creation of the Mods and Rockers

First published 1972 by MacGibbon and Kee Ltd
Second edition published 1987 by Basil Blackwood Ltd
Third edition published 2002 by Routledge
First published in Routledge Classics 2011
by Routledge
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© 1972, 1980, 1987, 2002 Stanley Cohen
The right of Stanley Cohen to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by him
in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any
form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented,
including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system,
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Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registeredtrademarks,
and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Cohen, Stanley.
Folk devils and moral panics : The creation of the Mods and Rockers /
Stanley Cohen.
p. cm. – (Routledge classics)
Includes bibliographical references.
1. Young adults–Great Britain–Case studies. 2. Deviant behaviour. 3. Subculture–
Great Britain. 4. Moral panics. I. Title.
HQ799.8.G7C63 2011
ISBN 0-203-82825-9 Master e-book ISBN

ISBN: 978–0–415–61016–2 (pbk)
ISBN: 978–0–203–82825–0 (ebk)


moral panics as cultural politics: introduction
to the third edition

Deviance and Moral Panics
The Inventory
Reaction: Opinion and Attitude Themes
Reaction: The Rescue and Remedy Phases
On the Beaches: The Warning and the Impact
Contexts and Backgrounds: Youth in the Sixties

appendix: sources of data
selected reading list
notes and references
general index
author index





Folk Devils and Moral Panics was published in 1972. It was based on
my PhD thesis, written in 1967–69 and the term ‘moral panics’
very much belongs to the distinctive voice of the late Sixties.1 Its
tone was especially resonant in the subjects then shared by the
new sociology of deviance and the embryonic cultural studies:
delinquency, youth cultures, subcultures and style, vandalism,
drugs and football hooliganism.
When the Second Edition appeared in 1980, I wrote an
Introduction (‘Symbols of Trouble’) that dealt almost entirely
with the ‘Folk Devils’ part of the book’s title (the Mods and
Rockers), especially the developments in subcultural theories
of delinquency associated with the Birmingham Centre for
Contemporary Cultural Studies. In this Introduction to the
Third Edition, I deal only with the ‘Moral Panics’ part of
the title: reviewing uses and criticisms of the concept over the
last thirty years. A selected reading list can be found on pages
There are three overlapping sources for this review:

i n tr o d uc ti o n to th e th ird edit io n

First, is the stuff itself, thirty years of moral panics. Whether or
not the label was applied and/or contested at the time or afterwards, there are clusters of reactions that look very much like
‘classic’ moral panics.
Second, the same public and media discourse that provides the
raw evidence of moral panic, uses the concept as first-order
description, reflexive comment or criticism.2 These are shortterm reactions to the immediate (‘the current moral panic about
paedophiles’) and long-term general reflections on the ‘state-ofour-times’.
Third, is the meta-view from academic subjects, notably media
and cultural studies, discourse analysis and the sociology of deviance, crime and control. Here the concept has been adapted and
adopted, expanded and criticized, and included as a ‘Key Idea’ in
sociology and a standard entry in textbooks and dictionaries.3
Calling something a ‘moral panic’ does not imply that this
something does not exist or happened at all and that reaction is
based on fantasy, hysteria, delusion and illusion or being duped
by the powerful. Two related assumptions, though, require attention – that the attribution of the moral panic label means that the
‘thing’s’ extent and significance has been exaggerated (a) in
itself (compared with other more reliable, valid and objective
sources) and/or (b) compared with other, more serious problems. This labelling derives from a wilful refusal by liberals, radicals and leftists to take public anxieties seriously. Instead, they are
furthering a politically correct agenda: to downgrade traditional
values and moral concerns.

The objects of normal moral panics are rather predictable; so too
are the discursive formulae used to represent them. For example:
They are new (lying dormant perhaps, but hard to recognize;
deceptively ordinary and routine, but invisibly creeping up the



int ro d u ct io n t o th e th i r d e d i ti o n

moral horizon) – but also old (camouflaged versions of traditional and well-known evils). They are damaging in themselves –
but also merely warning signs of the real, much deeper and more
prevalent condition. They are transparent (anyone can see what’s
happening) – but also opaque: accredited experts must explain the
perils hidden behind the superficially harmless (decode a rock
song’s lyrics to see how they led to a school massacre).
The objects of moral panic belong to seven familiar clusters of
social identity:
1. Young, Working-class, Violent Males
Working-class yobs are the most enduring of suitable enemies.
But the roles they played over these decades – football hooligans,
muggers, vandals, loiterers, joy riders and mobile phone
snatchers – were not represented by distinctive subcultural styles.
There is too much fragmentation to identify dominant subcultures. Loyalties – whether to fashion, musical style, or football –
are too diffuse to match each other. Under the exclusionary
regimes set up in the Thatcher years and adapted by New Labour,
the losers drop quietly off the board, too quietly for any public
displays like the Mods and Rockers. Each of the 1992 riots on
out-of-town council estates (in Bristol, Salford and Burnley) was
short-lived and self-contained. Only the identities and barriers
of race have been further strengthened. With the constant exception of football hooliganism, most crowd scenes of these years
(mobs, riots, public disturbance) have been organized on ethnic
lines (Brixton, Leicester and Bradford).
Away from the crowds two very different cases stand out, both
known by the names of the victims. One, the Jamie Bulger story,
was utterly unique, yet triggered off an immediate and ferocious
moral panic; the other, the Stephen Lawrence case, despite being
indeed a harbinger of things to come, produced a late, slow
running and ambiguous reaction, never reaching full panic status.

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On 12 February 1993, two 10-year-old boys, Robert
Thompson and Jon Venables, led away 2-year-old James Bulger
from a shopping centre in Bootle (Liverpool). They walked with
him for some two and a half miles to a railway line and then
battered him to death. The number of ‘Children Who Kill
Children’ is minute and not increasing. It was precisely the rarity
of the event and its context that made it so horrible. Long before
the trial began in November the Bulger story had become a
potent symbol for everything that had gone wrong in Britain: a
‘breed’ of violent children, whether feral or immoral; absent
fathers, feckless mothers and dysfunctional underclass families;
the exploitation of children by TV violence and video nasties;
anomic bystanders – on the grainy screen of the defective CCTV
they watch as the toddler (arm stretched up, between the two
older boys, one in step, the other moving grimly ahead) is led to
his death.
The Sun instantly called for ‘a crusade to rescue a sick society’. A
few days later, the shadow Home Secretary, Tony Blair, referred to
the week’s news as ‘hammer blows struck against the sleeping
conscience of the country, urging us to wake up and look unflinchingly at what we see’. The Independent (21 February 1993) used
Blair’s phrase to headline its leading article ‘The Hammer Blow To Our
Conscience’. ‘Britain is a worried country,’ it stated, ‘and it has a good
deal to be worried about.’ By the end of the week, Britain was
‘examining the dark corners of its soul’ (The Economist, 27 February
1993). The only bit of late modernist reflexivity came from
someone who makes a living from moralizing: Archbishop George
Carey warned about the dangers of ‘lapsing into moral panic’.
One such danger is a ready susceptibility to simple explanations. A throwaway remark by the trial judge – ‘I suspect that
exposure to violent video films may in part be an explanation’ –
quickly became a factoid that the last video rented by one of the
boys’ father was Child’s Play 3 (a nasty video indeed in which a
child ‘kills’ a manic doll). This had ‘chilling parallels’ to the



int ro d u ct io n t o th e th i r d e d i ti o n

murder of Jamie Bulger; the two boys ‘may’ have watched it (Daily
Mail, 26 November 1993). The panic turned on media violence.
The Sun staged a public burning of horror videos; reports claimed
that Child’s Play had been removed from video shops; Scotland’s
largest video chain burnt its copies. Four months later, a senior
Merseyside police inspector revealed that checks on the family
homes and rental lists showed that neither Child’s Play nor anything
like it had been viewed.
The search for meaning and causes is of course not always
spurious, simple-minded or mythical. Public opinion, social
scientific theories and poetic imagination4 had to strain themselves to make sense of such an event. But during moral panics
and media frenzies the atypical case is compressed into general
categories of crime control (such as ‘juvenile violence’). The
explanatory theory is based on too few cases; injustice results by
targeting too many cases.
Stephen Lawrence was an 18-year-old black youth from South
London. On the evening of 22 April 1993, while standing at a
bus stop with a friend he was taunted with racial abuse by a
group of five or six white youths. They then stabbed him in the
chest and he died some hours later.
This was to become another boundary marking case. It was
not as unusual as the Bulger story, but just as rich and received
more intense public and media exposure over a much longer
period. The visible failure to bring the known group of suspects
to trial led to continuous revelations of police incompetence and
racism. After six years of persistent campaigning and claimsmaking (by various civil liberties organizations, anti-racist
groups and the local black community including Stephen
Lawrence’s parents), an inquest, a botched private prosecution, a
flawed internal police review, and a Police Complaints Authority
investigation, eventually a £3 million Judicial Inquiry was set up
(chaired by a retired judge, Sir William Macpherson). It published
its 335 page Report in February 1999.5 The Report generated

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enormous public attention and an iconic policy agenda still
refers to policing ‘after Macpherson’ or ‘after the Stephen
Lawrence Report’.6
At first glance, all the ingredients for a moral panic were in
place. The Report itself took a moral stand against the persistent
racism it had identified. For example: ‘Stephen Lawrence’s
murder was simply and solely and unequivocally motivated by
racism. It was the deepest tragedy for his family. It was an affront
to society, and especially to the local black community in
Greenwich’ (Para. 1.11); ‘Nobody has been convicted of this
awful crime. This is also an affront both to the Lawrence family
and the community at large’ (Para. 1.12). Professional incompetence and poor leadership were important reasons for the police
failure, but the overarching problem was ‘pernicious and
persistent institutional racism’, police failure to respond to the
concerns of ethnic minorities and ‘discrimination through
unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping’ (Para. 6.34).
Why did all this not quite add up to a moral panic? Despite
the continued use of Stephen’s name, public attention shifted
from the victim to the police. With the quick departure from the
scene of the suspected offenders (their culture of violence and
racism soon forgotten) the police became the only object of
attention. The Macpherson Report found a divided organization
sending out contradictory and confusing messages marked by an
‘alarming inability to see how and why race mattered’.7 Precisely
because of this ‘inability’ the police could hardly be expected to
carry the full burden of the Lawrence fiasco, and even less, the
damaging indictment of ‘institutionalized racism’. There was no
one else to blame – but the police were just unsuitable as folk
devils. Moreover they had the power to deny, downplay or bypass
any awkward claims about their culpability.8
The right wing press, especially the Daily Mail and the Daily
Telegraph, claiming to speak on behalf of all British society, directly



int ro d u ct io n t o th e th i r d e d i ti o n

aided the police. These papers applied, with astonishing accuracy, methods that could appear in a manual on ‘How To Prevent a
Moral Panic’. The notion of ‘institutionalized racism’ was
denounced as meaningless, exaggerated and too sweeping; the
term could stir up resentments among ordinary people (stigma
and deviancy amplification theory); it besmirches the whole
police force because of a few blameworthy individuals; the
British are a tolerant people who have marginalized the far right
and allowed racial minorities to be integrated and accepted. The
Report, proclaimed the Telegraph, could have come from a ‘loony
left borough’. Some of its conclusions ‘bordered on the insane’.
Macpherson (a witch finder looking for thought-crimes) was a
useful idiot duped by the ‘race relations lobby’ (Sunday Telegraph 21
and 28 February 1999 and Daily Telegraph, 26 February 1999).
In the end, the Lawrence case lacked three of the elements
needed for the construction of a successful moral panic. First, a
suitable enemy: a soft target, easily denounced, with little power
and preferably without even access to the battlefields of cultural
politics. Clearly not the British police. Second, a suitable victim:
someone with whom you can identify, someone who could have
been and one day could be anybody. Clearly not inner-city young
black males. Third, a consensus that the beliefs or action being
denounced were not insulated entities (‘it’s not only this’) but
integral parts of the society or else could (and would) be unless
‘something was done’. Clearly if there was no institutionalized
racism in the police, there could not be in the wider society.
2. School Violence: Bullying and Shootouts
The ‘Blackboard Jungle’ (the name of the 1956 movie) has long
served, in Britain and the USA, as a vivid image about the
menacing violence of inner-city schools. Violence is seen as a
constant daily backdrop: pupils against each other (bullying,
playing dangerous macho games, displaying weapons); teachers

i n tr o d uc ti o n to th e th ird edit io n

against pupils (whether formal corporal punishment or immediate rage and self-protection).
There have been sporadic outcries about this backdrop of
school violence and related problems such as truancy, large-scale
social exclusion into special classes or units and more recently
the neighbourhood pusher selling drugs at the school gate.
Fully-fledged moral panics need an extreme or especially
dramatic case to get going. The age-old rituals of bullying in
classroom and playground (girls, for once, getting a fair share of
attention) are usually normalized until serious injury or the
victim’s suicide.
A recent example is the run of high school massacres and
shooting sprees. The first images – from the USA in the midnineties – were quite unfamiliar: school grounds taped off by
police; paramedics rushing to wheel off adolescent bodies;
parents gasping in horror; kids with arms around each other;
then the flowers and messages at the school gates