Stanley Cohen (sociologist)

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Stanley Cohen FBA (23 February 1942 – 7 January 2013) was Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics.[1]


Cohen was born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1942. He grew up in South Africa and was an undergraduate at the University of Witwatersrand, studying Sociology and Social Work. He came to London in 1963, where he worked as a social worker, before completing his Ph.D at LSE. From 1967, he lectured at the University of Durham and in 1972 became Professor of Sociology at the University of Essex. In 1980, he moved with his family to Israel, where he was Director of the Institute of Criminology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He also worked with human rights organisations dealing with the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. He returned to England in 1996 and was appointed Martin White Professor of Sociology at LSE. In 1998 Cohen was elected a fellow of the British Academy, and received honorary doctorates from University of Essex in 2003 and Middlesex University in 2008. In 2009 he was the first recipient of an Outstanding Achievement Award from the British Society of Criminology. He died on 7 January 2013 after suffering from Parkinson's disease, since being diagnosed with the degenerative condition in 1996.[1]


Cohen was a leading writer on Criminology and Sociology. However, although Cohen is credited with coining the term moral panic in his 1972 study (Folk Devils and Moral Panics) of the popular UK media and social reaction to the Mods and Rockers phenomenon of the 1960s, the term is quite old - for instance an early usage can be found in the Quarterly Christian Spectator in 1830[2] and it was used by the communications theorist Marshall McLuhan in 1964.[3] Nevertheless, Cohen's book is widely regarded by British criminologists as one of the most influential works in the field in the last forty years. The work applied the concepts of labelling, societal reaction and [4]' notion of the Deviancy Amplification Spiral and helped to shift the focus of Criminology away from the causes of crime towards social reaction the sociology of crime and Social Control. Cohen suggests the media overreact to an aspect of behaviour which may be seen as a challenge to existing social norms. However, the media response and representation of that behaviour actually helps to define it, communicate it and portrays it as a model for outsiders to observe and adopt. So the moral panic by society represented in the media arguably fuels further socially unacceptable behaviour.[5]

Stanley Cohen: States Of Denial[edit]

Stanley Cohen, also wrote States of Denial, an influential book on how people are in denial about acts of racial oppression and other sufferings. This book covers topics on oppression, suffering, and slavery. He explains how many people, throughout this country, know that racial oppressive acts occur yet deny it. Cohen explains how it seems as if these people only want to signify and realize things that they want, not actual reality. Cohen states that people do know yet do not know that there is suffering and oppression, as if they choose to ignore it rather than talk about such an uneasy topic. Many people assume, and sometimes witness these acts occur, yet when asked will deny anything ever happened. Stanley Cohen writes about how people act blind to reality, due to uncomfortable and uneasy topics. According to Cohen, many people are in touch with the fact that racial oppression still occurs, along with other acts of human suffering, yet many people deny that those actions happen. The topic of racial oppression is such an uncomfortable topic; no one likes to acknowledge it actually happens in the world we live in today. Stanley Cohen’s point of the book is to bring awareness to those who don’t see the truth being mass incarceration and how society is structured. He wants people to realize how much we choose to ignore in society today, and that it needs to change.

Publications & Articles[edit]



  • Cohen, S. (ed) (1971) Images of Deviance Harmondsworth: Penguin
  • Cohen, S. (1971) "Directions for Research on adolescent group violence and vandalism", British Journal of Criminology, 11(4): 319-340
  • Cohen, S. (1971) "Protest, unrest and delinquency: convergences in labels or behaviour?" Paper given to the International Symposium on Youth Unrest, Tel Aviv 25–27 October
  • Cohen, S. (1972) Folk Devils and Moral Panics, London: MacGibbon and Kee
  • Cohen, S. (1972) "Breaking out, smashing up and the social context of aspiration" In: Riven, B. (ed) Youth at the Beginning of the Seventies, London: Martin Robertson
  • Taylor, L. & Cohen, S. (1972) Psychological Survival: the Experience of Long Term Imprisonment, Harmondsworth: Penguin
  • Cohen, S. & Taylor, Laurie (1976) Escape attempts: the theory and practice of resistance in everyday life ISBN 978-0-415-06500-9
  • Cohen, S. (1979) "The punitive city: notes on the dispersal of social control", Contemporary Crises, 3(4): 341-363


  • Cohen, S. (1980) "Footprints in the Sand: A Further Report on criminology and the sociology of deviance in Britain" In: Fitzgerald, M., McLennan, G. & Pawson, J. (eds) Crime and Society: Readings in History and Theory, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul pg.240
  • Cohen, S. (1982) "Western Crime Control Models in the Third World," in S. Spitzer and R. Simon (eds.), Research in Law, Deviance and Social Control Vol. 4.
  • Cohen, S. & Scull, A. (eds.) (1983) Social Control and the State: Historical and Comparative Essays Oxford: Martin Robertson
  • Cohen, S. (1985) Visions of Social Control: Crime, Punishment and Classification, Polity Press
  • Cohen, S. (1988) Against Criminology, New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books
  • Cohen, S. (1988) "Taking Decentralization Seriously: Values, Visions and Policies," in J. Lowman et al. (eds.), Transcarceration: Essays on the Sociology of Social Control, Aldershot: Gower.
  • Cohen, S. (1988) "Taking Decentralization Seriously: Values, Visions and Policies," in J. Lowman et al. (eds.), Transcarceration: Essays on the Sociology of Social Control, Aldershot: Gower.


  • Cohen, S. (1990) "Intellectual Scepticism and Political Commitment: The Case of Radical Criminology," Institute of Criminology, University of Amsterdam.
  • Cohen, S. (1991) "Talking about torture in Israel", Tikkun, 6(6): 23-30, 89-90
  • Cohen, S. (1993) "Human rights and crimes of the state: the culture of denial", Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 26(2): 97-115


  • Cohen, S. (2001) States of Denial: Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering, Polity Press ISBN 978-0-7456-2392-4
  • Cohen, S. & Seu, B. (2002) "Knowing Enough Not to Feel Too Much," in P. Petro (ed.) Truth Claims: Representations and Human Rights, Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press.


See also[edit]

Downes, D. et al. (eds.) (2007) Crime, Social Control and Human Rights: From Moral Panics to States of Denial, Essays in Honour of Stanley Cohen, Cullompton, Devon: Willan Publishing.


  1. ^ a b Laurie Taylor (23 January 2013). "Stanley Cohen obituary | Education |". London: Guardian. Retrieved 2013-01-23. 
  2. ^ The Quarterly Christian Spectator: Conducted by an Association of Gentlemen (1830) Vol. II. A. H. Maltby. New Haven/ New York
  3. ^ McLuhan, Marshall (1994). Understanding media: the extensions of man. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. ISBN 9780262631594
  4. ^ Wilkins, L.T. (1964) Social Deviance: Social Policy, Action, and Research. London: Tavistock
  5. ^ Hopkins Burke, R. (2001) An Introduction to Criminological Theory, Cullompton: Willan pg.154

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