Moral Panics study note on Folk Devils and Moral Panic, Deviance and Moral Panics.

This introductory chapter to Cohen’s Folk Devils and Moral Panic outlines the approach in which Cohen will analyse the mods and rockers deviance in the 1960s. The chapter is concise in contextualising the framework in which Cohen will situate his analysis of these groups in relation to moral panic.

There are three frameworks, which Cohen sees as integral to the study of moral panics; being subcultural theory (delinquency), collective behaviour and disaster research.

Subcultural theory and delinquency refers to the framing of certain subcultural groups as delinquents.

Collective behaviour studies also feeds into this in that it looks at the group as a whole rather than the individuals within the group. It is here where the mass media can categorise and amplify deviation and apply it to a whole subcultural group.

Cohen sees disaster research as a model, which can be somewhat loosely used to show the processes of moral panics from warning to impact to inventory to reaction.

In terms of the audience Cohen’s approach looks at how ‘social control leads to deviance’ (Cohen, p.8) and not the other way around, which is vastly different from Adorno. Adorno saw subculture as an increasingly negative entity, or what Cohen refers to as canonical as in it is not skeptical of the overarching categorisation of subcultures. Cohen’s approach sees the subcultural groups as active audiences in that they challenge the ‘normative contours of a society’ (Cohen, p.11)

In considering moral panics drug moral panics become particularly prominent, where a certain stigma and stereotype is associated with a particular drug, which resonates with Cohen’s construction of the moral panic. In the case of drug abuse panics it is often the media, which create this stigma of ‘scary drug of the year,’ which instills a ‘criminogenic effect’ (Goode and Ben-Yehuda, p. 198), where a few dramatic episodes are presented as characteristic of every experience with the drug. The construction of drug moral panics can be analysed in accordance with the theories of collective behaviour and subcultural theory in that a) dramatic drug episodes are seen as the overarching response everyone will have to the drug and b) subcultural stereotypes are often associated with the certain drug use. For instance in the 1960s moral panic spread in regards to LSD use, where hippies were the physical embodiment of the drug, with newspaper stories such as “Strip-Teasing Hippie Goes Wild on LSD” (Goode and Ben-Yehuda, p. 202).


Adorno, T., 2003. Culture Industry Reconsidered, in: Brooker, W., Jermyn, D. (Eds.), The Audience Studies Reader. Routledge, pp. 55-61.

Cohen, S., 1980. Deviance and Moral Panics, in: Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The Creation of the Mods and Rockers. Routledge, pp. 1–15.

Goode, E., Ben-Yehuda, N., 2010. Drug Abuse Panics, LSD in the 1960s, in: Moral Panics: The Social Construction of Deviance. Wiley-Blackwell, Hoboken, pp. 197–198, 202–205.

Posted: March 25, 2012 • 11:05 PM
Filed Under: #moral panic #honours #cohen #reading note #comm futures