Falling Back on the Concept of (Moral) Panic: Questioning Significance, Practicality, and Costs

Title: Falling Back on the Concept of (Moral) Panic: Questioning Significance, Practicality, and Costs
Authors: Greco, Christopher A.P.
Date: 2016
Abstract: For over 40 years, the term moral panic and concept to which it is adjoined have been used throughout the socio-criminological literature as a means of describing collective overreactions to perceived wrongs. Since the 1980s, the concept has also been criticized for its inability to adapt to differing moral viewpoints and research paradigms. To address these criticisms and question the significance of moral panic’s continued use, this paper works to redefine the concept from its theoretical foundation to practical employment. A contextual-constructionist/post-positivist approach is, first, used to weigh claims of fact against an imperfect understanding of ‘the truth’. Moral panic is then defined as a means of describing collective, corrective-intended behaviour based on an irrational belief that exaggerates the threat posed by a social problem. To test and further nuance this definition, the Parliament of Canada’s decision to pass four bills that introduced or amended section 172.1 (luring a child) of the Criminal Code of Canada is deconstructed. Using a Historical Dialectic-Relational Approach to analyze the transcripts of House of Commons and Senate debates and committee meetings related to bills C-15A, C-277, C-2, and C-10, the concept of moral panic is found to be an appropriate means of describing certain forms of collective behaviour. An outline of how members of parliament spoke, during the legislative process, of the media, expert witnesses, Internet child lurers, and victims of child sexual abuse provides additional context. The paper concludes by arguing that the moral panic concept can be mobilized in a way that is theoretically justifiable, adaptable to differing moral viewpoints, and of practical use.
URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10393/34187
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