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126 Working Paper

The Political Construction of Collective Insecurity: From Moral Panic to Blame Avoidance and Organized Irresponsibility

Apr 14, 2024 – Daniel Beland


This theoretical contribution explores the role of political actors in the social construction of collective insecurity. Two parts comprise the article. The first one briefly defines the concept of collective insecurity and the second one bridges existing sociological and political science literatures relevant for the analysis of the politics of insecurity. This theoretical framework articulates five main claims. First, although interesting, the concept of moral panic applies only to a limited range of insecurity episodes. Second, citizens of contemporary societies exhibit acute risk awareness and, when new collective threats emerge, the logic of "organized irresponsibility" often leads citizens and interest groups alike to blame elected officials. Third, political actors mobilize credit claiming and blame avoidance strategies to respond to these threats in a way that enhances their position within the political field. Fourth, powerful interests and institutional forces as well as the "threat infrastructure" specific to a policy area create constraints and opportunities for these strategic actors. Finally, their behavior is proactive or reactive, as political actors can either help push a threat onto the agenda early, or, at a later stage, simply attempt to shape the perception of this threat after other forces have transformed it into a major political issue.