Folk devils without moral panics: discovering concepts in the sociology of evil

Steven James Hayle


In this theoretical ‘think piece’, I question whether Stanley Cohen’s (1972) ‘folk devil’ and ‘moral panic’ concepts are as inseparable as current sociological and criminological research suggests. Thus far, the vast majority of crime and deviance scholars have treated the folk devil as just one sub-part of the moral panic concept, rather than considering it to be a distinct concept. Consequently, the social processes leading to the creation of folk devils have been largely under-theorized compared to the social processes underlying moral panics. I propose that folk devils and moral panics be conceptualized as two distinct social phenomena. I present evidence from news articles published in the Toronto Star, Canada’s largest circulated newspaper, which illustrates how individuals can be labeled as folk devils when moral panics are not taking place. I conclude by considering how a distinct, folk devil research program can contribute to studies in the sociology of ‘evil’.

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International Journal of Criminology and Sociological Theory | ISSN : 1916-2782