Responses to sex offenders often involve collective campaigns that target political and criminal justice systems rather than individual offenders. Scholars have described these community responses as part of a broader moral panic, but that interpretation generally overlooks differences in the form of responses across places. This dissertation uses data from case studies of three California towns to examine how local political and legal contexts contribute to variation in community responses to violent sex offenders. I argue that communities' orientations to authority shape how they respond to perceived injustices.
I introduce my main arguments and overarching concepts in chapter one. Then, in chapter two, I explore why communities deploy moral authority in service of their collective goals. Moral authority is an endogenous source of community power, and moral claims emerge within formal institutional contexts that allow for and even encourage morally based arguments. Because these institutions limit the effectiveness of moral claims, communities sometimes turn to other mobilization strategies. Chapter three shows how an orientation to political authority as a source of entitlement contributed to one community rallying around political mobilization. I contrast this case with a second community in which an orientation to political authority as a source of alienation contributed to ambivalence toward political strategies. In chapter four, I argue that the third community's orientation to legal authority as a source of protection contributed to litigation as the centerpiece of their response. I compare this case to the second community in which legal authority was perceived as a source of control, which facilitated indifference toward legal mobilization.
This research contributes to a new perspective on participation in moral panic as a contemporary form of civic engagement. By illuminating the social processes underlying the relationships between communities and formal institutions, my findings have implications for understanding community responses to crime, legal and political mobilization, collective action, and social control within communities. More practically, this research can inform discussions about how community members should be involved in decision-making about sex offender reintegration.
|Commitee:||Beamish, Thomas, Jenness, Valerie, McCarthy, Bill|
|School:||University of California, Davis|
|School Location:||United States -- California|
|Source:||DAI-A 75/02(E), Dissertation Abstracts International|
|Keywords:||Community, Sex offenders, Sociology of law, Violent offenders|
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