Framing families: 'deserving' vs 'undeserving' households and neighbourhoods as glimpsed through juvenile panic stories in the online press.
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MORRISON, J. 2016. Framing families: 'deserving' vs 'undeserving' households and neighbourhoods as glimpsed through juvenile panic stories in the online press. In Proceedings of the 66th International conference of political studies association annual conference: politics and the good life, 21-23 March 2016, Brighton, UK. London: PSA [online]. Available from: https://www.psa.ac.uk/sites/default/files/conference/papers/2016/Framing%20Families%20conference%20paper.pdf
Highly dramatized narratives about children have become a staple of late-modern popular discourse - from media-stoked horror stories about child abuse and abduction to more conventional moral panics, often mobilized by politicians and state agencies, about juvenile delinquency and youth deviancy. But, besides presenting a distorted impression of the world(s) children inhabit - and childhood itself - these narratives frequently offer a thinly veiled, simplistic critique of what constitutes good and bad parents/guardians (and good and bad families, communities and neighbourhoods). Based on framing analysis of selected British national newspaper stories published in print and online during early 2016 - and the reader discussion-threads accompanying them - this paper focuses on identifying contrasting patterns in the way children and families from poorer households, neighbourhoods and communities are represented and perceived in the context of singular, dramatic events. It uses the prism of the 'juvenile panic' narrative - a story positioning the young as victims of moral degeneracy and/or threats to the moral order - to investigate underlying discourses about the comparative levels of 'deservingness' of different children and families, and the types of families (and communities) they are held to symbolize. The paper argues that, too often, decisions about the relative newsworthieness of child victim and/or threat narraties involving lower-income households are based not on objectives news judgement but on normative, largely commercially driven, decisions about their 'deserving' or 'undeserving' status. By juxtaposing tales involving 'respectable' working-class families/neighbourhoods with those featuring 'dysfunctional' ones peopled by unemployed claimants and other late-modern archetypes, such stories act as a proxy for promoting wider societal discourses about what constitutes a deserving community, family and, ultimately, child.