Wednesday 9 January 2013

Stanley Cohen RIP

The sociologist Stanley Cohen died yesterday. Cohen coined the term 'moral panic' in his 1972 book Folk Devils and Moral Panics (1972). Frank Furedi offers a few thoughts about his legacy—and contemporary panics—over at Spiked....

Unlike the conventional moral panics, which were directed against clearly recognisable folk devils, twenty-first-century anxieties tend to focus on less tangible phenomena, which, we are told, could have catastrophic consequences. The current catastrophic imagination also informs us that there is a growing range of ‘conditions’ that threaten human life. Outwardly at least, fearmongering about global terrorism, superbugs or climate change appears very different to the old panics about traditional targets such as juvenile delinquents, drug addicts and single mothers. Lacking moral depth, today’s panics are depicted as responsible reactions to objective, measurable, real-world conditions. So-called scientific claims stand in for old-style moral condemnation.

...Modern-day fearmongering is still oriented towards regulating personal behaviour, and it is frequently as prescriptive as the traditional moral crusades were. Indeed, today’s fear entrepreneurs frequently assert the moral authority of their enterprise. Public-health campaigns against obesity are a good example of how modern crusades turn a physical condition into a moral threat. This is a crusade that openly boasts of its mission to alter people’s personal behaviour.

Also at Spiked, be sure to read Timandra Harkness's article about obesity.

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