Stanley Cohen, 1942-2013

January 24, 2013

The sociologist who pioneered the hugely influential notion of “moral panics” has died.

Stanley Cohen was born on 23 February 1942 and grew up in Johannesburg. His first “political” memory, he later recalled, was looking out from his comfortable bedroom and seeing the “night watch boy” - an adult black man - “huddled over a charcoal fire, rubbing his hands to keep warm, the collar of his khaki overcoat turned up”.

After studying sociology at the University of Witwatersrand, he went on to take a PhD at the London School of Economics while working as a psychiatric social worker. He began his academic career as a lecturer in sociology at Enfield College (1965-67) and held a similar position in the University of Durham’s newly created sociology department (1967-72) before moving to the University of Essex as senior lecturer (1972-74) and then professor of sociology (1974-81).

Professor Cohen left the UK to serve, from 1981 to 1985, as director of the Institute of Criminology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. While there, he co-authored the first report, for the organisation B’Tselem, on the Israeli use of torture. He returned to the LSE as Martin White professor of sociology in 1996, with emeritus status from 2005. He played a key role in establishing the LSE’s Centre for the Study of Human Rights in 2000.

Several of Professor Cohen’s books are widely regarded as classics. Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The Making of the Mods and Rockers (1972) forged a crucial analytic tool that he and others went on to apply to the “panics” around “video nasties”, satanic abuse and asylum seekers said to be “flooding the country”.

His final book, States of Denial: Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering (2001), which won the 2002 British Academy Book Prize, explores the psychological mechanisms through which we refuse to acknowledge terrible violations of human rights.

Laurie Taylor, who co-authored both Psychological Survival: The Experience of Long-term Imprisonment (1972) and Escape Attempts: The Theory and Practice of Everyday Resistance (1976) with Professor Cohen, paid tribute to “his major contribution to academic scholarship and his lifelong commitment to exposing injustice”.

Yet he was also “a wonderfully satirical commentator on the ways of the world. He relished the writings of Philip Roth and Saul Bellow and Howard Jacobson, revelled in his huge collection of Jewish jokes, and enjoyed nothing more than mocking some of the more absurd aspects of contemporary academic life.”

Professor Cohen died of Parkinson’s disease compounded by a stroke on 7 January. He is survived by his daughters Judith and Jessica.

matthew.reisz@tsleducation.com.

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Assistant Recruitment - Human Resources Office

University Of Nottingham Ningbo China

Outreach Officer

Gsm London

Professorship in Geomatics

Norwegian University Of Science & Technology -ntnu

Professor of European History

Newcastle University

Head of Department

University Of Chichester
See all jobs

Most Commented

men in office with feet on desk. Vintage

Three-quarters of respondents are dissatisfied with the people running their institutions

A face made of numbers looks over a university campus

From personalising tuition to performance management, the use of data is increasingly driving how institutions operate

students use laptops

Researchers say students who use computers score half a grade lower than those who write notes

Canal houses, Amsterdam, Netherlands

All three of England’s for-profit universities owned in Netherlands

As the country succeeds in attracting even more students from overseas, a mixture of demographics, ‘soft power’ concerns and local politics help explain its policy