Looking At The Social Rules In Society Criminology Essay

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Using constructivist theories of Erving Goffman and Michael Foucault it is possible to see how order in society is made. Erving Goffman dissected intrinsic social rules regulating the nonverbal interactions between individuals in order to develop his theories. In Goffman's hypothesis of Interactional Order, he demonstrated that even the most informal of actions expressed by an individual in terms of movements and attitudes of their body, becomes part of a performance intended toward conveying a positive impression for the individual's spectators. Goffman focused on the individual and their self-presentation. (Silva, 2009)

On the contrary, Michael Foucault elected to analyze society as a whole. Foucault scrutinized the ways in which societies function and the principles of segregation societies developed in order to define themselves. Foucault did not achieve his research. He was a culture Historian who relied soley on desk research to develop his theories. In Foucault's view it is how societies, as large groups and not individuals, viewed and comprehend their world that defined the culture and governed ways in which the idea of discourses in society distributed and used power. Foucault looks at authority shaping order within society as opposed to Goffman's theory of the presentation of the individual self. "Goffman sees social order as being built up from social interactions and is relatively unconcerned with the historical processes that embed these social orderings and the ways in which various orders of interaction are authorized. In contrast, Michael Foucault's work is more explicitly directed to these issues." (Silva, 2009)

By understanding how social order is made it is manageable to establish how a perceived ordered society develops into disordered society.


This assignment focuses on two concepts of social disorder, Stanley Cohen's "Moral Panic" (Silva, p363, 2009) and Huesmann et al.) Media Effects Research. Within this assignment secondary research is used to provide quantitative and qualitative information, other secondary research will evaluate the murder of James Bulger on February 12, 1993, which will then be used to compare and contrast these explanations of social disorder in contemporary UK society.

Compare and Contrast two explanations of social disorder in contemporary UK society.

"Moral Panic" (Silva, p363, 2009) is the term Stanley Cohen used to define 'a threat to society, its values and its interests' (Silva, p363, 2009). According to, Stanley Cohen such "moral panic" (Silva, p363, 2009) is borne of an immoral incident whereby the mass media amplify, depict, brand and hold responsible the person or group involved, an example of this is "Folk Devils" (Silva, p370,2009). This in turn creates a tendency for government members, such as politicians, to man the 'moral barricades' (Cohen p 9, 1972) and render judgment. When these factors are amalgamated society fosters what may be deemed as irrational, anxiety to such events. The mass media's amplification of "Folk Devils" (Silva, p370,2009) stereotypes causes "moral panic"(Silva, p363, 2009)" and leads society to persecute those involved. Stanley Cohen's theory of "moral panic" (Silva, p363, 2009) and "Folk Devils" (Silva, p370,2009). is evidenced by his case study regarding "Mods and Rockers" (Silva, p370, 2009) which took place in the mid 1960's (Silva, 2009).

Huesmann et el. hypothesis were that of Media effects research. Huesmann et al. used longitudinal studies to develop their theory of exposure to media violence linking to social disorder (Silva, 2009). Huesmann et al. believed, based on their findings that watching violence either produces violence in individuals, or desensitizes them to it. Huesmann et al. evidenced their theory via a sample of 577 children in 1977 the children were "interviewed and tested, including collecting information on their patterns of television viewing." (Silva, p373,2009). Follow up research took place using the same sample in 1991 and then four years later 398 of the original 577 were interviewed and Huesmann et el drew a parallel between "aggressive behaviour of some of these adults" (Silva, p373, 2009). and "their watching television violence as children"(Silva, p373, 2009).

Another theory worth touching upon is Policing the Crisis (1978) of Stuart Hall, Hall et al. akin to Cohen, agreed that the media's orchestration of antisocial behaviour creating a "moral panic" (Silva, p363, 2009) which he termed "A Sense of Crisis"(Silva, p375,2009).However, society then evolved to a 'Law and Order society' (Silva, 2009) as the social factors in Hall et al. theory were "inequality, social crisis and the interest of the state in diverting the attention away from these factors"(Silva p375, 2009), unlike Cohen where the social factors was a "deep-seated culture of anxiety"(Silva,p370, 2009).

The primary similarity between the two theories is that they both investigate the foundations and corollary of specific forms of antisocial behaviour. However, the theory of Stanley Cohen gives an example of that which is perceived as anti social behaviour and defines deviants of society and portrays the media as amplifying an event and its consequences whereas Huesmann et al, in their theories look for the cause of such behaviour. Huesmann et al. draw a direct link between the media and antisocial behaviour.

On examining the table in appendix 1 it is evidential that many crimes are the same across the three sample societies however, the widest difference can be seen in the violence against the person and drug offences. Looking at these two crimes and the areas of difference, the lack of media coverage on violence in Scotland could support Huesmann et al. theory in learned behaviour through exposure to media. This could however, be due to significant reduction in the number of crimes reported in comparison to the other two samples.

Drawing upon the events surrounding the Jamie Bulger murder, newspapers branded these two boys "Child Killers" creating "moral panic" (Silva, p363, 2009) and highlighting serious faults within British society. The media coverage on these events was phenomenal. The newspapers seem however to attach culpability elsewhere "Even without sexual abuse, there was no lack of motive for the killing. The tabloid verdict was that Thompson and Venables were aliens from the Planet Evil, or (no less Gothic) video-junkies mimicking Chucky Doll in Child's Play 3. The truth is more humdrum. Their family backgrounds exhibited classic "risk factors" - dysfunction, poverty, alcoholism, marital breakdown, neglect and bullying. Both boys had been held down a year at school, a humiliation which made them team up. Both resented their siblings, and may have punished James for it."' Morrison ,Blake (2003). It is imperative to consider child killers were present before the media amplified them an is example Mary Bell who strangled 2 boys at the age of 11 in the sixties, society's response was passive compared to the Jamie Bulger case this demonstrates a clear link between antisocial behavior and mass media but only in terms of creating a "moral panic" (Silva, p363, 2009) and defining the antisocial behavior not molding the psyche of those branded 'Child Killers'.

Huesmann et al. Media effects research is linked to this case as the theory relates to the consequences of violence in films, Morrison, Blake and others claim Venables and Thompson had both watched the film Child's Play featuring the torture and killing of a live child doll. Many cases of violence have been linked to the influence of media and it various censorships have been put in place and questions are continually raised as to whether watching media violence causes emulation of it.

Finally the theory of Stuart Hall is contained within this excerpt. The extract highlights inequalities however whether the Childrens Act of 1998 and other laws were brought into effect as a direct effect of those who petitioned shortly after the James Bulger case has not been proven.

All of the theories mentioned in this essay have their strengths and weaknesses. Cohen's theories represent the interactionist view whereby antisocial behavior is characterized and deviance consequently socially constructed. Cohen fails to consider how these characterizations are negotiated within society. The theory disregards consideration that this characterization depicts the "Mods and Rockers" (Silva, p363, 2009) as victims of society's response to the media and the "moral panic" (Silva, p363, 2009) borne from it. Cohen's theory ignores the aspect that not everyone would respond to the actions of the media and seek to reprimand those stereotyped. Cohen's theory implies that there is no free will and that every act in society must be caused by something, the public are portrayed to have no free will and assumptions made as to how collectively they would respond to the media's interpretation of events. Cohen does not consider the effects of the sources of power within society at the given times nor does it offer reason why media creates negative identities to resulting in creation of moral panic (Silva, p370, 2009). The "moral panic" (Silva, p363, 2009) theory dates back to the 1960's therefore, would be outdated to some extent due to societal progression. However "moral panic" (Silva, p363, 2009) does highlight the media's contribution to social deviance and is therefore a useful theory when analyzing social disorder (Abbott, D, 2009). In relation to Huesmann et al. theory of media effects research, the team was unable to provide conclusive evidence as to whether the children were already violent or whether the media had a direct influence in their behavior. This is substantiated with the lack of censorship and continuous production of media violence. (Silva, p373, 2009)


In summary all theories have their merits but in order to understand the disorder in society all three theories work together, they are all plausible explanations but the complexity of society denotes not one theory can be used alone but amalgamation of all three theories can construct a reason for social disorder.

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Cohen, Stanley (1972): Folk Devils and Moral Panics. London: MacGibbon and Kee

Taylor,S., Hinchliffe,S., Clarke,J and Bromley,S (eds) (2009): Making Social Lives. Milton Keynes: The Open University