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New Furedi book examines trust in the aftermath of Jimmy Savile scandal

Professor Frank FurediA new book and work of public sociology by Frank Furedi, Honorary Professor of Sociology at the University of Kent, explores the precarious status of trust in the aftermath of the Jimmy Savile scandal.

Published on 19 March and titled Moral Crusades in an Age of Mistrust: The Jimmy Savile Scandal (Palgrave Macmillan), the book examines the sociological meaning of the sudden transformation of Jimmy Savile - charity fundraiser, household name, cultural icon - into the personification of evil. It also considers the important role scandals usually play in clarifying the moral issues preoccupying society and how, in the wake of the Savile affair, the absence of moral consensus only bred uncertainty instead of restoring moral order. Consequently, the ‘febrile atmosphere surrounding the exposure of Savile as a paedophile’ should be considered a moral crusade rather than as a moral panic.

By situating the scandal in a wider historical perspective, Professor Furedi not only outlines the distinctive feature of this particularly 21st century moral crusade but also goes on to form a surprising conclusion: that the concerns unleashed by the Savile affair will no doubt serve to intensify the climate of mistrust and encourage moral crusaders to expand their activities. A climate that has led to at least one public figure being falsely accused of the sexual abuse of minors.

He writes: ‘Although the promoters of such crusades are motivated by good intentions, the outcome of their activity is to disrupt intergenerational relations. Suspicion directed towards grown-ups means that they become more distanced from young people. Yet the exercise of adult responsibility is essential for the security of children. Society needs to question the claims of zealous moralising in order to restore a more constructive intergenerational dynamic.'

Professor Furedi also points out that the culture of mistrust which preceded the unmasking of Savile, and which has been amplified by the scandal, will continue to dominate public life into the indefinite future. 'In fact, just look at what has happened between the conclusion of the Savile affair and now,' he said. 'We have horse meat turning up in the food supply chain, drug revelations about cycling and cancer community hero Lance Armstrong, and numerous scandals and allegations surrounding high profile political and religious figures from General Petraeus to the Archbishop of Scotland.

'All of which comes on the back of press and police misconduct as outlined in the Leveson Inquiry, MPs claiming false expenses and high-profile sports matches and games being fixed. Not to mention the BBC's handling of the Savile affair. It's no wonder people ask: who can you trust? Which is why, if ever there was time to offer a sociologically-informed explanation of distrust and its consequences, this is it.'


Story published at 10:14am 12 March 2013

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Last Updated: 09/05/2013