Sociology and Moral Panics Essay

Submitted By tinksow
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Pages: 7

Compare and contrast Cohen’s study of disorderly behaviour with that of Hall et al.

Human life arguably is dictated by our concept of order and the understanding surrounding it, philosopher Charles Taylor (2004, p. 58) suggested that the core foundation of society is based on our capability to structure order at the base, thus giving us a guideline as to how we fit in together and intertwine with others globally. This order within social life is fundamental to our daily practice. Concerning the concept of disorderly behaviour we have to remember that society has evolved steadily through age changing rules, norms and expectations that people previously held. As well as changes through time we should consider changes through countries and continents where different belief systems are held therefore affecting how we would perceive norms and order.

Erving Goffman proposed a very clever way to look at society and order in it through a ‘multiplicity of performances’, Making Social Lives, chapter 7 p. 316, if we see life as a theatre and people within society as actors we can draw comparisons on interactional order that is played out. Goffman suggest that there is a ritual of trust within everyday life providing boundaries for our social interaction, this ‘invisible’ set of orders also dictates any just punishment that follows should codes and rules be broken. This brings us to the definition of ‘disorderly behaviour’, according to The Oxford Dictionary the phrase refers to ‘unruly behaviour constituting a minor offence’, when we consider disorderly behaviour we also have to consider the power of the media which plays a significant role in demonizing particular groups of society.

Through out history we can trace a distinct pattern of fear of youth and the gang culture that surrounds them. Aristotle quoted that ‘the young people of today…scoff at authority and lack respect for their elders’ (Brake, 1980, p. 1) proposing to us that hooliganism and anti social behaviour was rife even back then, historian Heather Shore professes that ‘the late eighteen and nineteenth century was a pivotal period’ (Shore, 2000, p. 21) petty crime and disorder evolved into something that can be considered as a ‘moral panic’, a term coined by sociologist Stanley Cohen (1973, p. 9). This moral panic is a collective of behaviour, people or condition that is viewed as a direct threat to society. Note that Hall et al. see society or the British State as the most powerful and influential group with its interests held in common by those living in it. Using the springboard of moral panics, Cohen’s (1972) work brought to prominence concepts such as ‘folk devil’ and ‘deviancy amplification spiral’. Deviancy amplification spiral is a phenomenon where the media creates hysteria around a certain event believed ‘deviant’ by the general public and intensifies this movement through rigorous reports resulting in a moral panic (Jewkes and Letherby, 2002). For example, the August riots in 2011 across England were commonly viewed as a moral panic, particularly in the aftermath when sentences were imposed on many of the youths responsible (Greenslade, 2011).

The ‘folk devil’ is the media-labeled deviant identified at the center of the storm. Folk devils are usually alike with a particular period in time; Cohen pointed to the recurrent association of groups of people that are seen to threaten ‘our whole way of life’ and from whom society ‘must be protected’. ‘Mods’ and ‘rockers’ were the original folk devils Cohen based his claims on during the 1960s, which has since moved on to current media terms such as ‘thugs’, ‘alco-yobs’ and ‘yobettes’ in today’s society (Taylor et al, 2009). Cohen observed the ‘fundamentally inappropriate’ reaction by much of society to relatively minor events and disorders. The press was mainly responsible for exaggerating and distorting the seriousness of events, especially those involving young people and violence. Social disorder was