Conference Paper: A Hybrid Model of Moral Panics: Synthesizing the Theory and Practice of Moral Panic Research

26 10 2009

Brian V. Klocke
(State University of New York, Plattsburgh)
Glenn Muschert
(Miami University)

To read this article and its associated commentaries for free just click on the PDF links below.

Klocke & Muschert PDF

Commentary 1 PDF – Sean Hier (University of Victoria)

Commentary 2 PDF – Kenneth Thompson (Open University)

In order to post your comment and response, please use the comments box at the bottom of this post. All comments are moderated and will appear shortly after they are submitted.



We seek to address criticisms of the concept of moral panics by offering a hybrid model of moral panics (MPs) that synthesizes theory and practice of MPs research. A review of the literature on MPs from sociology, media studies and related fields shows a wide variety of usage and lack of conceptual clarity of the term moral panic.  Yet there are few articles explaining how to analyze MPs.  We present a theoretical clarification of MPs by addressing elements of scope, intensity and reception, to create distinction from other related theoretical concepts.  In order to develop a working method for researching MPs, one must have an understanding of social conditions that give rise to, sustain and result in the success or failure of MPs, as well as possible lasting effects. We synthesize Cohen’s process-oriented model of MPs and Goode & Ben-Yehuda’s attribution-oriented model of MPs, creating a critical hybrid model of moral panics that integrates processes and attributes. We then utilize the hybrid model to offer practical suggestions for researching and analyzing the conditions, processes and effects of MPs, in the hopes of encouraging a more rigorous research agenda for scholars of moral panics.



4 responses

26 10 2009
Jerry Suls

I am struck by the fact that the moral panic idea has not been adopted by social psychologists from the discipline of psychology.
There are certainly facts and phenomena about cognitive processes underlying stereotyping and rumor transmission that have direct connections to moral panic dynamics. Moreover, recent work on the cognitive and affective dynamics of social influence -automatic and implicit processes- may supplement what folks from other disciplines have uncovered about moral panics.
This is a perfect area where boundaries should be crossed and social-personality psychologists have been late. Thanks to Klocke and Muschert for their interesting and generative contribution.

27 10 2009
Brian Klocke

Dear Participants in Our Virtual Session on Moral Panics,

First, we would like to say thank you to our reviewers for taking the time to consider our piece, and we look forward to receiving comments from other participants in the virtual conference. The topic of moral panics has been an important part of a number of fields, including sociology, cultural studies, cultural criminology, and many others. We hope that our piece can make a modest contribution to the field, and perhaps to stimulate some fruitful debate and collaboration among the disciplines.

We are grateful to our reviewers for their time and constructive commentary regarding our manuscript. We respond to the reviewers’ concerns, in the spirit of moving the dialogue forward with the goal of increasing the productivity of the interdisciplinary field of moral panics. In particular, we note that our commentators are split regarding the merits of our project. While Prof. Thompson found our paper to be a “very constructive and useful attempt to take forward research on moral panics,” while Prof. Hier wrote that our “paper fails to deliver.” One of the challenges of writing a review paper of an interdisciplinary concept such as Moral Panics is that there is not enough space to address every theoretical perspective on the concept adequately, which opens one more easily to criticism. We take the collective feedback as suggesting that we attempted to address too much in one paper. We are pleased to have input from two scholars who have done important research in the field of moral panics and whose work we collectively cite in the paper eight times.

As we stated in our paper, some of the “critiques of classic models of MPs seem to stem from differences in theoretical and sub‐discipline specific perspectives in contextualizing the utility (or lack of utility) of the concept within larger social dynamics”. We also emphasized that “The distinction of MPs from similar typologies of public concern needs to be considered, and MPs should be seen as one aspect of a broader range of moral regulation, public anxieties, and ideological discourses of social control, but not totally subsumed by any one of these concepts”. From Prof. Hier we are thankful for the suggestion to closely examine an article by Critcher (2009) that was published this summer around the time that we were writing this paper, which places emphasis, as does his research, on theories of moral regulation. He is correct in mentioning that we did not cite his (Hier 2002b) research on raves as moral panics, but chose instead to cite a more recent research (Tepper 2009) that builds on his 2002 study. However, we do cite two of his other publications (Hier 2008, Hier 2002a) that offer strong critiques of the efficacy of moral panics. Due to space constraints and the purpose of introducing other disciplines to the concept of moral panics in an accessible way, we were selective and did not cite every article that includes the concept of moral panic. We attempted to briefly but comprehensively survey the various sub-fields of moral panics research and their contributions.

We found Prof. Thompson’s comments thought-provoking, and we imagine that we will be able to integrate several of his suggestions into our manuscript. Prof. Thompson focuses primarily on our suggestions for improving the field. In our paper, we made a call for a wider variety of data sources and triangulation of data. Prof. Thompson commented that “it should not distract researchers from the need to carry out much more rigorous investigations of the operations of the mainstream media.” We intend to include this point in a revised version, and in fact we agree that there is much that can be improved and learned in the “heart” of moral panics studies and the primacy of media institutions in the process.

In our paper, we made a call for more comparative studies of moral panics between countries, cultures and time periods. Dr. Thompson suggested that in his own work, “It was also important to relate the episode of a moral panic, or rapid succession of panics, to the social, political, and media pressures, of the particular period.” We plan to revisit our section, and see whether we can make a more inclusive statement about what it means to be “comparative” that includes factors of the historical social-political context.

One critique that both commentators shared is a reminder that a few scholars, including themselves, have already followed several of our suggestions in our brief methodological guide. We agree with this assessment and stress in the paper that many “studies of MPs utilize a single method and data source” or provide little detailed information about methods employed or why they were employed.

Thank you, once again, to our commentators. We welcome further constructive feedback from Prof. Hier, Prof. Thompson, and other scholars from around the world, on how we might we specifically enhance the paper’s merits and/or overcome the paper’s shortcomings. Please feel welcome to post here, and/or to contact us directly.


Brian V. Klocke & Glenn W. Muschert

Critcher, C. 2009 “Widening the Focus: Moral Panics as Moral Regulation,” British Journal of Criminology, 49, 1: 17‐34.

Hier, S. 2008. Thinking Beyond Moral Panic: Risk, Responsibility, and the Politics of Moralization. Theoretical Criminology 12(2), pp. 173‐90.

Hier, S. 2002a. Conceptualizing Moral Panic through a Moral Economy of Harm. Critical Sociology 28(3), pp. 311‐34.

Hier, S. 2002b “Raves, Risks and the Ecstasy Panic: A Case Study in the Subversive Nature of Moral Regulation.” Canadian Journal of Sociology, 27, 1: 33‐57.

Tepper, S. 2009 “Stop the Beat: Quiet Regulation and Cultural Conflict.” Sociological Forum, 24, 2: 276‐306.

27 10 2009
Glenn W. Muschert

Dear Jerry,
Thank you for your comments on our paper. I think you’re right that there are many connections to be made between psychological dynamics as moral panics. Please feel welcome to be in contact with Brian Klocke and myself, if you would like to start a dialogue about these possible connections.

30 10 2009

Greetings from The Management. We’re thrilled that you’ve found such fruitful grounds for discussion and exchange. You’re welcome to continue here after today.

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