Social problems may fruitfully be looked at as constructed phenomena, that is, what constitutes a problem is the concern that segments of the public feel about a given condition. From the constructionist perspective, that concern need not bear a close relationship with the concrete harm or damage that the condition poses or causes. At times, substantial numbers of the members of societies are subject to intense feelings of concern about a given threat which a sober assessment of the evidence suggests is either nonexistent or considerably less than would be expected from the concrete harm posed by the threat. Such over-heated periods of intense concern are typically short-lived. In such periods, which sociologists refer to as “moral panics,” the agents responsible for the threat—“folk devils”—are stereotyped and classified as deviants. What accounts for these outbreaks or episodes of moral panics? Three theories have been proposed: grassroots, elite-engineered, and interest group theories. Moral panics are unlike fads; though both tend to be relatively short-lived, moral panics always leave an informal, and often an institutional, legacy.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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