Stanley Cohen, RIP

The death of a sociologist


Stanley Cohen, 1942–2013

Whenever you hear the phrase moral panic, you're hearing an echo of Stanley Cohen, the great sociologist and criminologist who just died at age 70. Cohen didn't coin the term, but he was the first scholar to use it systematically, sketching the standard course of a panic in his 1972 book Folk Devils and Moral Panics: "A condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests; its nature is presented in a stylized and stereotypical fashion by the mass media; the moral barricades are manned by editors, bishops, politicians and other right-thinking people; socially accredited experts pronounce their diagnoses and solutions; ways of coping are evolved or (more often) resorted to; the condition then disappears, submerges or deteriorates and becomes more visible." The book explores in fine detail the process by which panics emerge and scapegoats are marginalized, using the 1960s British uproar over the rockers and the mods as a case study.

How fortunate we are that nothing like that ever happens anymore.