Turning moral panics into organized actions
Graduate School of Social Research Polish Academy of Science Warsaw, Poland
Moral panics are defined as exaggerated, media-amplified social reaction to relatively minor acts of deviance. Although, the initial reaction, triggered always by negative emotions, seems to be spontaneous and rather irrational the action taken in the later stage of a panic against the deviants remains surprisingly sound and rational. As a result, the issue in question gives rise to a considerable public debate about the breakdown of social order and the means of protecting it. If the scale of the threat posed by the deviant is believed to be significant (and it is always thought to be larger than the real threat) the actions may take a form of social movement which aims at serious legal and institutional changes to the situation.
In 2004-2007 Poland experienced a moral panic about homosexuals as a result of the growing activity of the gay and lesbian movement and its visibility in public sphere. Parades and demonstrations were organized in order to attract public attention and to raise important questions about gays' and lesbians' status in legal and social system. That caused a great alarm among politicians, right-wing organizations as well as the Polish church, who felt that social order might be at a threat.
Using the results of the content analysis of the four-year period we would like to focus on the means of social control which were evoked in order to suppress gays' and lesbians' visibility in public sphere as well as to prevent the apparent threat to social order. There were attempts to stop the parades, to introduce a bill against gay-teachers or to threaten, ridicule and vilify homosexuals. Special attention will be given to this very moment when the first, emotional reactions become rationalised and turned into systematical activities with their clearly specified purpose. We will try to see to what extend this "enterprise" can be analysed as a form of a social movement and what were the results of it.The analysed case will also allow us to ask about the necessary conditions for a successful publicity and organized action taken in a moral panic phenomenon.