Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name


Degree Program

Urban Studies


College of Urban and Public Affairs

Major Professor

Mickey Lauria

Second Advisor

Joyce Levine

Third Advisor

Susan Mann

Fourth Advisor

David Gladstone

Fifth Advisor

Robert Whelan


Over the last thirty years there has been modest investigation into the phenomenon of moral panic. Several high profile moral panics have been investigated by social scientists but with relatively little new theoretical developments. This research hypothesizes that there are two different forms of moral panic that have not been discerned by other researchers. I call these: metapanics and localized panics. In addition, in the last two decades a handful of well-respected theorists have drawn attention to the fact that social research is dominated by an historical perspective. Edward Soja. and Henri Lefebvre have been at the fore, but even Michel Foucault and David Harvey have entered opinions on the spatial dimension of social reality as at least overlooked, and at the worst intentionally obfuscated.

In this research, three communities where moral panics have taken place are compared with each other from the perspective of their human geography at the time of the panic, as reflected in the census data for the period. In addition, the histories of the cases are examined and compared through rhetorical analysis. The spatial dimension is examined in its representation in the common themes, phrases, and concepts of the public discourse on each individual panic. Qualitative data in the form of accounts from newspapers, television transcripts, and other media-related data are used to demonstrate the importance of the media and their setting of the tone for investigations, allegations, and any moral panic that ensues. With this research I hope to inspire others to examine spatiality in their work on moral panic. In addition to the more concrete questions of place, there is another area of place that has been ignored, the representation of place in moral panic. This research concludes that the best indicators of whether or not a panic will become a metapanic are to be found in the real and represented socio-economic status of the community where the panic takes place.


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