‘Apex’ Anxiety: ‘African Gang Crime’, Moral Panic and Ontological Security in Contemporary Victoria

Mr Billy Whitsed1
1The University of Melbourne, Preston, VIC

Following the outbreak of violence that occurred at 2016’s Moomba Festival, a media narrative has emerged emphasising the threat that African migration poses to both the Victorian public, and the ‘Australian way of life’. Such reporting has worked to mobilise support for a range of punitive political interventions including anti-consorting laws intended to disrupt migrant peer networks and the introduction of new state powers to deport young migrant offenders. To date, most commentary disputing these vilifying and essentialising depictions of African youth identity has drawn upon the theoretical paradigm of ‘moral panic’. This framework has been deployed to suggest that the media’s discursive association of African youth identity with criminality has significantly exaggerated the threat that African gang crime poses to Victorians.
Recent theoretical advancements made by authors Steve Hall and Mark Horsley suggest this theory of moral panic may be maladapted to a contemporary media landscape where audiences can easily access a range of conflicting representations. My research acknowledges this shifting context and seeks to identify why the Herald Sun’s audience find the normative representation of African youth identity this publication espouses so compelling.
Adopting a Lacanian lens, the project examines Herald Sun opinion pieces engaging with the issue of ‘African gang crime’ and the online ‘comments’ written in response to these pieces. Analysis seeks to forsake moral panic’s conceptualisation of the subject as overly gullible and develop a more nuanced understanding of the contemporary cultural and political phenomena influencing the sampled population’s investment in this media discourse.


Billy has recently finished his Honours year at the University of Melbourne. He is looking to pursue further research examining the relationship between emergent social media technologies and the mobilisation of populist nationalist groups throughout Australia.


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