Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2016

Access Restrictions

Access restricted until 07/03/2020

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Storrs, Landon R. Y.

Second Advisor

Gordon, Colin H.

First Committee Member

Baynton, Douglas

Second Committee Member

Oates, Tom

Third Committee Member

May, Elaine Tyler


This dissertation centers on a perceived child safety crisis in the late twentieth century U.S. It charts the emergence of specific cultural anxieties regarding American childhood and the development of new mechanisms designed to safeguard young Americans from “moral threats” such as stranger abduction, exploitation, and pornography. “Stranger Danger” shows that the politics of child safety coincided with Reagan-era efforts to snip the social safety net, promote law and order, lionize the business sector, and shore up the “traditional” family. The study argues that, as the New Deal order crumbled in the late twentieth century, so too did the state’s commitment to shielding American youths from structural problems such as hunger and poverty. Measures focused on child safety arose as social welfare programs like Aid to Families with Dependent Children, school lunch and child nutrition initiatives, and the Comprehensive Education and Training Act fell by the wayside. The shift from provision to protection that “Stranger Danger” takes as its central focus relied upon the development of a child safety apparatus, a collection of legal-cultural mechanisms that have exaggerated the prevalence of moral threats to American children, especially those perpetrated by strangers. Launched by activists and the bereaved parents of slain children, and eventually sanctioned by the Reagan administration, the 1980s child safety campaign authored an array of new instruments intended to protect young Americans from kidnapping, molestation, murder, exploitation, and corruption.


1980s, childhood, gender/sexuality, politics, race, United States


xi, 278 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 263-278).


Copyright © 2016 Bartosz Paul Mokrzycki

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