A Literature Review of Cohen, S (1973) Folk

A Literature Review of Cohen, S ( 1973/2003 )Folk Devils and Moral Panics, a Newspaper and a Journal Article

Stanley Cohen’s surveyFolk Devils and Moral Panics( 1973/2003 ) looks at the creative activityofand reactiontocertain aberrant groups by the media, the populace and the jurisprudence enforcement bureaus. Concentrating on two specific young person groups from the 1960s, the Mods and the Rockers, Cohen’s survey has been used by many theoreticians ( Gurevitch et al, 1990 ; Valier, 2003 ; Brown, 2005 etc ) to continually foreground the ways in which moral terrors are permeated and escalated by assorted societal establishments. Cohen inside informations how, through a procedure of hyperbole, deformation, anticipation and symbolisation ( Cohen, 1973/2003: 19 ) , the media turned comparatively innocuous events in a little coastal town in Essex into a national concern. Loaded phrases such as “orgy of destruction” , “battle” , “attack” and “screaming mob” , were used by newspapers and broadcast media to “over –report” reasonably localised events and turn them into cultural crises ( Cohen, 1973/2003: 20 ) . The ensuing ‘moral panic’ was so seized upon by the constabulary and the tribunals who non merely pre-judged and labeled groups of geting young persons but, when arrested, sentenced them more badly than they would an unrelated offense ( Cohen, 1973/2003: 108 ) .

As Marshall ( 1990 ) provinces, Cohen’s survey is a strict piece of research that examines the symbolization of cultural others ; images, topographic points, phrases and groups become detached from everyday world, or in Cohen’s words “torn from any antecedently impersonal contexts” ( Cohen, 1973/2003: 27 ) and become alternatively stereotypes or ‘folk devils’ that are used as symbols of aberrance and distinctness in the media and the popular imaginativeness. As Jackson ( 1994 ) inside informations, Cohen’s point here is that, whilst the character of the common people Satans may alter, the procedures of their creative activity rarely do and impressions such offense and aberrance can frequently be attributed every bit much to the labelling mechanisms of the media and other societal establishments as inherent in the ‘deviant’ groups themselves.

We see this point clearly reflected in a modern-day newspaper article printed inThe Guardian( Stewart, 13ThursdayMay 2008 ) associating to stab offense. The article quotes the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and his averment that the office of the Lord Mayor needs to “rid the capital of the ‘scourge’ of knife crime” ( Stewart, 2008 ) . Aside from the obvious lingual point here ( the Mayor using similar exaggeration to that highlighted by Cohen ) what the article suggests is, in fact, knife offense has remained comparatively stable over the past 10 old ages, non increased at wholly, as Stewart ( 2008 ) provinces:

Harmonizing to the British Crime Survey, knife-enabled offense ( any offense affecting a knife ) over the past decennary has remained stable at around 6-7 % of all offense, consisting 30 % of all homicides.

In fact, the most recent offense study by the Metropolitan constabulary showed that knife offense has really dropped by 15.7 % over the past two old ages, from 12,122 to 10,220 incidents. ( Stewart, 2008: 1 )

Stewart ( 2008 ) highlights the extent that media narratives environing knife offense and those that perpetrate it ( normally immature males, interestingly the same demographic as studied by Cohen ) do non reflect the statistical image of the existent state of affairs but alternatively try to make a phantasmatic portrayal of a common people Satan ensuing in the inevitable moral terror on the portion of the populace and societal establishments.

The construct of the ‘folk devil’ as Ferrell ( 1999 ) inside informations in a diary article for theAnnual Review of Sociology, has been complicated with the rise of the multi-mediated society. As he states, common people Satans are now non merely stigmatised but lionised by assorted media, adding to their position as foreigners and perverts ( see besides McRobbie and Thornton, 1995 ) ; since the 1970s popular music and civilization has promoted and valorised some signifiers of aberrant behavior therefore non merely promoting the formation of common people Satans but commodifying and capitalizing upon them, as Ferrell ( 1999 ) provinces:

With the proliferation of media channels and the impregnation of media markets, moral terrors have become unsafe enterprises and marketable trade goods. ( Ferrell, 1999: 400 )

Cohen’s seminal survey, so still has relevancy both in the Fieldss of criminology and the mass media and, as one observer inside informations, demonstrates “ a much greater grade of complexness than the many sum-ups of the work indicate” ( McRobbie, 1994: 203 ) . Although some authors have criticised the continued relevancy of an thought such as “moral panic” ( Hunt, 1997 ; Waddington, 1986 etc ) as this literature reappraisal has attempted to demo, the mechanisms, nomenclature and basic procedures of Cohen’s survey are still being employed both by faculty members and newspaper journalists.


Brown, S ( 2005 ) ,Understanding Youth and Crime, Milton Keynes: OUP

Cohen, S ( 1973/2003 ) ,Folk Devils and Moral Panics: Thirtieth Anniversary Edition, London: Routledge

Ferrell, J ( 1999 ) , ‘Cultural Criminology’ , published inAnnual Review of Sociology, Vol. 25, pp.395-418

Gurevitch, M, Bennett, T, Curran, J and Woollacott, J ( 1990 ) ,Culture, Society and the Media, London: Routledge

Hunt, A ( 1997 ) , ‘Moral terror and moral linguistic communication in the media’ , published inThe British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 48, pp. 629-648

Jackson, P ( 1994 ) ,Maps of Meaning: An Introduction to Cultural Geography, London: Routledge

Marshall, G ( 1990 ) ,In Praise of Sociology, London: Unwin Hyman

McRobbie A, Thornton SL ( 1995 ) ‘Rethinking ‘moral terror ‘ for multi-mediated societal worlds’ ,British Journal of Sociology, vol.46, pp. 559-574

McRobbie, A ( 1994 ) ,Postmodernism and Popular Culture, London: Routledge

Stewart, E ( 2008 ) , ‘Knife offense non increasing’ published inThe Guardian, 13ThursdayMay, 2008

Valier, C ( 2003 ) ,Crime and Punishment in Contemporary Culture, London: Routledge

Waddington, P.A.J ( 1986 ) , ‘Mugging as a moral terror: a inquiry of proportion’ , published inThe British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 37, pp. 245-259

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