Sean P. Hier

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Graham Knight




This dissertation offers a reformulation of the concept of 'moral panic' as a form of governance embedded in the spatially specific political temporality of risk and responsibility. Taking as a primary object of contestation Ungar's (2001) argument that developments commonly associated with the risk society thesis have thrown into relief many of the questions motivating traditional moral panic research, I argue that analytic priority rests not with 'changing' but 'converging' sites of social anxiety. Explaining moral panic in the context of a Marxist-inspired critical theory of ideology, I draw from Foucauldian-inspired discourse theory to conceptualize moral panic as a particular kind of moral regulation where technologies of the self intersect with structures of coercion and consent. In this regard, not only am I able to demonstrate how analytic retention of the concept of moral panic remains a fruitful exercise, but additionally why recent contributions have unnecessarily problematized the proliferation of moral panic in an age of the 'postmodern' mass media. Empirical data for the foregoing arguments are derived from two case studies. The first interrogates the anxieties which crystalized in the summer of 2000 concerning the uses and abuses of ecstacy at local raves in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Irrespective of the fact that concerted efforts were made on the part of a host of 'moral entrepreneurs' to extinguish raves held on city-owned property, Toronto's rave communities were able to subvert the moralizing discourse designed to characterize them 'at risk', simultaneously manipulating the same discursive technique to amplify the risks associated with terminating 'legal' raves in the city of Toronto. Conceptually situating the discussion in the sociology of moral regulation, the analysis explicates the fluid character of media discourses and the dynamic interplay of social agents in the social construction, and subversion, of moral panic. However, remaining sensitive to the dangers of over-emphasizing the 'subversive' nature of moral regulation, the second case study draws from news reporting on 599 Fujianese migrants who arrived to Canada's western shores in 1999 in an effort to demonstrate the sheer power of expurgation contained within moralized risk narratives. Illustrating how the migrants' arrivals were 'problematized' and transformed into a 'discursive crisis' centered on the constructs of risk and, more precisely, risk avoidance, it is argued that news reporting on the migrants held broader ideological resonances, extending beyond a unilateral concern about the perceived failures of the Canadian immigration and refugee systems to serve as an index for collective insecurities stemming from social change, racial integration and contested Euro-Canadian hegemony.

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