chapter  10
Panic, regulation, and the moralization of British law and order politics
ByDan Lett, Sean P. Hier, Kevin Walby, André Smith
Pages 16

Our aim in this chapter is to contribute to ongoing debates about widening the focus of moral panic studies by examining the relationship between moral panic and moral regulation. We argue that moral panic scholars have correctly emphasized tendencies for folk devils to resist both typification and regulation (McRobbie 1994; McRobbie and Thornton 1995; Hier 2002a), and that moral panics derive from, or represent volatile manifestations of, periodic crises in long-term moral regulation projects (Hier 2002b). We argue, however, that processes of moralization – that is, dialectical normative judgments about right and wrong, good and bad, safety and danger – are more complex than recent (progressive) commentary suggests, and we demonstrate that, although folk devils can and do fight back, resistance efforts can also be met with the state’s ongoing regulatory force. In other words, whereas the moral panic literature has hitherto been concerned to show how resistance to primary definitions and dominant claims making is possible, we demonstrate how resistance efforts can also be resisted. To substantiate some of the theoretical claims, and to contribute to the emerging

project of widening the focus of moral panic studies, we examine the emergence of ‘hoodies’ as an assumed indicator of moral decline among youth in contemporary Britain. On 11 May 2005, the Bluewater Shopping Centre in Kent, England implemented

a code of conduct forbidding attire that conceals customers’ facial features from the gaze of nearly 400 video surveillance cameras distributed throughout the complex. The ban prevented anyone wearing a hooded top (a.k.a. ‘a hoodie’) from entering the mall. The garment is a favored mode of attire for British youth and the ban functioned to exclude groups of young people from gathering in the mall. National newspaper and television media granted extensive coverage to the Bluewater ban in

the months to follow, keeping pace with contemporary media discourses that address perceptions of youth as a source of risk (Thompson 1998; Critcher 2003). A hoodies discourse developed in media reports and public policy debate to mark what was represented as a pattern of moral decline among British youth, and the hoodie began to infer inherent delinquency. Although moral regulation vis-à-vis the signification of hoodies garnered momentum

from a cultural impulse to moralize the activities of youth (Cohen 1972; Thornton 1994; Coleman 2005), discourses opposing the ban appeared in the mass and alternative media. British government officials invoked the hoodies signifier to address assumed youth tendencies towards anti-social behavior and to justify legislative attempts to impose regulatory measures on British youth. However, folk devils and their supporters ‘fought back’ against the problematization of hoodies in mainstream and alternative media counter-claims. The struggle to define the problem of hoodies occurred in the context of an established debate concerning the British government’s Anti-Social Behaviour Act of 2003. These processes were indicative of what Hall et al. (1978) conceptualized as a signification spiral: a mode of signifying events by the convergence of a newly identified concern with other social problems, escalating the perceived threat of the emergent events beyond the thresholds of societal tolerance. In what follows, we neither quantify the regularity of ‘Anti-Social Behaviour

Order’ deployment by authorities nor account for the legal technicalities of ASBOs; a burgeoning literature on youth and crime in the UK has already made these contributions (see Crawford 2009, 2007, 2006; Millie, 2008; Pearson 2006; Simester and von Hirsch 2006). Rather, our aim is to conceptualize the debate about hoodies using recent developments in the sociologies of moral regulation and moral panic and to show how volatile panics emerge from and are tied to long-term regulatory processes – in this case, the moralization of British law and order politics. Whereas the moral panic literature has hitherto been concerned to show how contestation of primary definitions and dominant claims making is possible, we demonstrate how these claims can be countered with reference to New Labour’s ‘Reform and Respect Agenda’. The analysis is particularly important in the context of Waiton’s (2008) argument that the contemporary politics of antisocial behavior has ushered in the era of amoral panics.