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The child at risk: paedophiles, media responses and public opinion

Meyer, Anneke (2007) The child at risk: paedophiles, media responses and public opinion. Manchester University Press. ISBN 9780719073441

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Abstract

Paedophilia continues to be a public and emotive topic in contemporary Britain which is capable of generating great levels of interest, concern and condemnation. The child at risk charts these social responses and unravels their underlying dynamics through detailed empirical research and theoretical analysis. In contrast to many legal or social policy books this study does not deal with paedophilia as a ‘taken-for-granted problem’ which needs better management. Instead it focuses on the very processes of sense making and meaning attribution which constitute paedophilia as a social problem. Based on critical discourse analysis of the Guardian and the News of the World, focus group research and documentary research, the book traces how different ‘agencies’ within the social – notably the media, the public and the government and its law enforcement agencies – understand and construct paedophilia. In this context the three discursive figures of ‘the paedophile’, ‘the innocent child’ and ‘the good parent’ are explored as interrelated pillars of common forms of understanding. The child at risk looks beyond the media and ‘moral panics’ for explanations of emotive social responses and the paradox pervading them (the paradox of increased regulation – of paedophiles and children – coinciding with continuing popular concern). Drawing on and developing a wide range of theoretical frameworks – such as risk/reflexivity theory, the sacralisation of the child, gothic narratives and neo-liberal governance – the book identifies a number of dynamics which produce concern and render ineffective regulation designed to reduce fears. These dynamics include the moral rhetoric of childhood, exposition of the crisis of neo-liberalism and conceptualisations of ‘the paedophile’ as a dangerous pervert. As a result, the book points beyond its immediate subject and furthers understanding in the areas of risk, childhood and governance, as well as collective concerns and emotions.

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