Department: Department of sociology ;Mannheim centre for criminology ;Contact details: tel +44 (0)20 7955 7576; firstname.lastname@example.org ;LSE experts: Professor Stanley Cohen
Members of the Mannheim Centre have been deeply saddened by the death of Stan Cohen on Monday 7 January. Stan was one of the most inspiring and original thinkers around the world in criminology and human rights. His writing and research in these fields began and ended at the London School of Economics. In 1963 he came to the Department of Sociology, following a training in social work in South Africa, to pursue doctoral research into social responses to youthful delinquency. His Ph.D thesis was to be the basis for his book Folk Devils and Moral Panics (1972), the study of social reactions to Mods and Rockers, clashes between whom were taken, for a time, as portents of social collapse. The term ‘moral panic’, with its connotations of melodrama and over-reaction to minor forms of deviance, and the coda that such responses can make things far worse, has entered the English language.
The second major phase of his work, co-authored with Laurie Taylor, began when he moved to Durham University and later to the University of Essex. Their study of the conditions and effects of long-term imprisonment in H Wing in Durham Prison, Psychological Survival (1972), led to consternation in the Home Office. That, and Prison Secrets (1976) on the lack of clear-cut rights in prison regimes, led onto Cohen’s celebrated ‘dispersal of control’ thesis. Drawing on the legacy of Orwell as much as Foucault, he analysed the ever-extending reach of the state into everyday life. Visions of Social Control (1985) is a dystopian examination of how even benign reforms can be subverted to ever more penetrating controls. Against Criminology (1988) collects articles and papers united by his preference for criminology as a ‘sceptical’ sociology of crime, deviance and control rather than a statistically formulated correctionalism.
The third and final phase is in many ways his most important contribution to advanced social thought. States of Denial: Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering (2001) combines his rich expertise in criminology with his concern for human rights, generated by growing up in apartheid South Africa and sharpened by his experience of living in Israel from 1980-94, after which he returned to London. While there is no truth whatsoever in the assertion that he was driven out of Israel for pursuing anti-Zionist policies, he was a consistent and vocal critic of the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians and their cause. Particular insights flowed from his skill in applying criminological theories, such as Sykes and Matza’s ‘techniques of neutralisation’ (1957) to the denial of repression and atrocities by governments and state officialdom. The notion of ‘torture-lite’ burgeoned in such rationalisations: “The equivalent of ‘you can’t call this stealing’ is ‘you can’t call this torture’” (States of Denial: 77).
Stan Cohen made seminal contributions not only to the study of crime, deviance and control but also to human rights. He was a founder member of the Centre for the Study of Human Rights at the LSE, as well as the most prominent member of the Mannheim Centre for Criminology and Criminal Justice. Generations of students testify to the warmth and humour, as well as the sheer range and scholarly sophistication of his teaching. He was a great exponent of the Socratic method, urging students to think for themselves and not simply to absorb received opinion. Fortunately, his work has already proved highly durable, and future generations can at least test their sense of reality against the standards he set. One of his idiosyncracies was to have postcard sized photos of people whose work he held in the highest regard, which included George Orwell, Nelson Mandela and Samuel Beckett. We can well imagine him among them.
Professor Stanley Cohen
Stanley Cohen grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa and was an undergraduate sociology student at the University of Witwatersrand. He left in 1963 for London where he completed his doctorate at the London School of Economics. He lectured in sociology at the University of Durham and then the University of Essex, where he was Professor of Sociology from 1974.
In 1980, Cohen and his family left Britain to live in Israel. He was Director of the Institute of Criminology at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem and also became active in human rights work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
He returned to LSE as a visiting centennial professor in 1994 and in 1996 was appointed Martin White Professor of Sociology. He has received the Sellin-Glueck award from the American Society of Criminology and in 1998 was elected as a fellow of the British Academy. He helped set up the new LSE Centre for the Study of Human Rights and now runs its teaching programme. He is also on the Board of the (Geneva-based) International Council on Human Rights Policy.
Stan Cohen has written about criminological theory, prisons, social control, criminal justice policy, juvenile delinquency, mass media, political crime and human rights violations. His books include:
Images of Deviance (1971);
Folk Devils and Moral Panics: the making of the mods and rockers (1972);
Psychological Survival: the experience of long-term imprisonment (with Laurie Taylor) 1973;
Escape Attempts (with Laurie Taylor), 1977;
The Manufacture of News (with Jock Young) 1977;
Social Control and the State (with Andrew Scull) 1983; and
Visions of Social Control (1985); and Against Criminology (1988).
His most recent book, States of Denial: knowing about atrocities and suffering (Polity Press, 2001), deals with personal and political reactions to information, images and appeals about inhumanities, cruelty and social suffering. States of Denial was chosen as Outstanding Publication of 2001 by the International Division of the American Society of Criminology and was awarded the 2002 British Academy Book Prize.
He was awarded Honorary Doctorates by the University of essex (2004) and Middlesex (2008) and in 2010 was awarded an Honorary Fellowship by the LSE. In 2009 he received the Outstanding Achievement Award of the British Society of Criminology
The 30th anniversary edition of Cohen's classic Folk Devils and Moral Panics (Routledge, 2002) has just been published. In the introduction, he reviews the uses of the concept of 'moral panics' in the 30 years since 1972.
Stan's teaching and research interests now fall in the emerging field of 'political criminology': the interface between crime, politics and human rights.
Together with Dr Bruna Seu (Department of Psychology, Birkbeck College) Professor Cohen is conducting follow-up research (from States of Denial) on moral boundaries and the psychology of everyday denial
Two allied projects:
The role of truth commissions and international criminal tribunals in creating consensual memory
Problems in using the criminal law model for the control of mass atrocities
Professor Cohen was the consultant for a report Modes and Patterns of Social Control:Implications for Human Rights Policy published by the in 2010.
"This report is the outcome of an enquiry into the human rights implications of contemporary patterns of social control – how laws, policies and administrative regulations define, construct and respond to people, behaviour or status defined as "undesirable", "dangerous", criminal or socially problematic. Five policy areas reflecting a wide range of contemporary policy concerns were chosen for specific examination:
(1) Policing and surveillance;
(2) Punishment and incarceration;
3) Urban spaces and the poor;
(4) Migrants and non-citizens;
(5) Public health and infectious disease control.
A case study of the Roma in Europe was also commissioned."
Professor Cohen is now consultant for the leverhulme funded research project (at LSE and Birkbeck) on how NGO's (e.g. Amnesty) confronts atrocities and the suffering of distant others.