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Structuring Knowledge of Subcultural Folk Devils through News Coverage: Social Cognition, Semiotics, and Political Economy

Author(s): J. Patrick Williams

Journal: Studies of Transition States and Societies
ISSN 1736-874X

Volume: 3;
Issue: 2;
Start page: 3;
Date: 2011;
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Keywords: folk devil | media | moral panic | news | social cognition | subculture | youth.

The folk devil concept has been well used in subcultural studies, yet its importance might be better served by distinguishing among multiple conceptual frames through which it is articulated. In this article, I clarify how folk devils are made possible through the interaction of three concepts used by sociologists to study everyday life. The first is the process of social cognition, where producers and consumers of news construct and propagate a shared definition of who subcultural youths are and why they should be the object of fear. The second are the semiotic structures of genre and narrative, which narrow the interpretive process of producers and receivers alike and sustain discourses that limit how subcultural youths can be understood in the news. The third has to do with political economy, where the ideological features of mass mediated news-making keep the news industry in relative control of meaning making. Social cognition, semiotics, and the political economy dialectically produce the phenomenon of the subcultural folk devil and support its objective effects. I review several studies of market and state-controlled media societies and note that, in both types, the objective effects on youths are similar and significant. In studying how subcultural youths are framed in the media output of transitional states and societies, the conceptual value of social cognition, semiotics, and political economy should be recognised.
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