1.02. Components of Moral Panic


1. elite-engineered model
  • the elite-engineered model argues that the elites are the ones who are the driving force behind moral panics for their own interests and advantages. Therefore it is the rich and powerful who generate fear about issues which do not pose a sufficient threat to society. The ruling class is then said to be responsible for the media, and the implementation of laws which work to drive attention away from real problems whose solutions undermine the benefits of the elites.

2. grassroots model
  • the grassrotes model argues that moral panics evole by a bottom-up hierarchy, originating from the general public. If often involves a sudden, widespread, fear that generates concern and disrupt the social order. Homosexuality is an example of a fear which is said to develop from this model- the grassroots model.

3. interest-group theory
  • the most common theory for the evolvement of moral panics is the interest-group theory which holds that neither the elites nor the lower class populace is responsible for generating moral panics. Rather, this theory argues that the middle level of the societal hierarchy (i.e the media) generate moral panics to express their ideology or to maximize their benefits. A large number of these panics involve undermining the power of ruling elites.

(Goode and Ben-Yehuda, 2009)


According to Stanley Cohen, often considered the researcher that first coined the term "moral panic", there are five key stages in the construction of a moral panic (Killingbeck, 2001):

  1. A group of persons are defined as a threat to social norms or community interests
  2. This threat is then depicted in a simple and recognizable form by the media
  3. Public concern arises as a reaction to this media portrayal of the threat
  4. There is a response from authorities and policy makers
  5. The moral panic over the issue results in social changes within the community


Cohen (2002) notes that in order to classify an event as a moral panic, the following elements must be included:

  1. Concern- potential or imagined threat
  2. Hostility- diapproval towards the actions of those who are responsible for eliciting them
  3. Consensus- agreement among the majority of people that the actions are unappropriate
  4. Disproportionality- a greater perception of harm then usual
  5. Volatility- fear and panic evolves immediately