‘Moral panics and the state’ seminar

I have just had a paper accepted for a seminar in Cardiff on Friday November 22nd. The seminar is the third in a series on ‘Moral Panics’ in the 21st century and the full programme can be found here on the seminar series blog, and you can also find the booking form here. You will hopefully believe me when I tell you that the purpose of this post is not self-promotion (although on reflection, that’s arguably the purpose of the entire blog, to some extent…..) but to bring the whole event to your attention. People interested in this blog will absolutely definitely find at least a couple of papers in there that will be of interest to them.

If you don’t believe me, you can view some of the abstracts here

My abstract doesn’t seem to be there (at the time of writing) for some reason, so just to completely contradict myself and do a bit of self-promotion, below is the abstract for my paper.

‘High-risk’ families: The ‘amplification’ of the Troubled Families Programme

The latest episode of a recurring moral panic about a ‘social residuum’ or a ‘problem group’ can be found in the ‘troubled families’ agenda. The recent announcement in June 2103 of the ‘massive expansion’ of the Troubled Families Programme (TFP), to include a newly identified group of 400,000 ‘high-risk’ families’, represents an amplification of the control culture surrounding families living in poverty. Drawing on the press releases and wider press coverage relating to this announcement and recent speeches by the moral entrepreneurs Louise Casey and Eric Pickles, this paper will examine the recent history of the Troubled Families Programme, mobilising the ‘deviance amplification’ model proposed by Cohen, which built on previous work by Wilkins.

The ‘troubled families’ narrative began in the aftermath of the riots in 2011, when David Cameron stated that ‘Whatever you call them, we’ve known for years that a relatively small number of families are the source of a large proportion of the problems in society.’ Since then, regular announcements reporting on the progress of the programme and frequent interviews, media appearances and speeches by Casey and Pickles have ensured a strong and positive ‘feedback loop’ for the TFP, including support from local authorities, national charities and members of the public. Particular attention will be paid to five stages within the deviance amplification model (sensitization, diffusion, escalation, dramatization, exploitation) and the language and rhetoric surrounding the ‘extra £200 million boost’ to help ‘high risk families get to grips with their problems before they spiral out of control’ will be analysed.

This re-definition of ‘troubled families’ to include a (poorly defined) group of ‘high risk’ families can be seen as a ‘widening of the net’,  sensitizing the public to a much larger, more visible group of families who require ‘intensive help’. These families are not ‘at-risk’, they are ‘high-risk’ suggesting a ‘clear and present danger’ to others. Identifying another 400,000 families, in addition to the initial 120,000 families, represents a further diffusion of the ‘problem’ from the relatively small numbers of youths who participated in riots in some towns and cities in England in 2011. The ‘intense approach’ and the threat of ‘consequences’ for non-participation can be understood as an escalation of previous approaches to working with ‘families with multiple disadvantages’, with Casey also accusing ‘rule enforcing’ social workers of ‘colluding’ with families. Strong language has been used to dramatize the activities families with David Cameron alluding to them as ‘neighbours from hell’ and Casey promoting the use of contraceptives for ‘families with lots of children across lots of different age groups.’

Finally, the paper will highlight how the ‘troubled families’ narrative and its subsequent expansion has been ideologically exploited to lend weight to wider discourses around Broken Britain, supposedly demonstrating the necessity of punitive welfare reforms to ‘reduce dependency’ and tackle worklessness amongst, in the words of Iain Duncan Smith, ‘a (steadily rising) underclass in Britain – a group too often characterised by chaos and dysfunctionality…and governed by a perverse set of values.’