labelling theory

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  • labelling theory
    • claims behaviour is only deviant when society says that it is. no act is criminal until it is labelled in society as such.
    • it is usually powerful people in a society that determine whether behaviour is deviant eg politicians, judges, police.
      • by giving people the label of deviant because of their behaviour the authorities are maintaining their power structure. more powerful groups give deviant labels to the subordinate groups. also meaning being labelled may depend on who you are.
        • e.g stealing fruit from a neighbours tree may be seen as part of childhood in affluent areas, but in poor areas may be labelled as anti-social
    • being deviant and criminal is based upon the interaction between deviants and non deviants and the context the behaviour is done in.
      • e.g injecting  heroin is not deviant when doctors and nurses do it, but is labelled as deviant when someone who is not a medical professional does it.
    • what is considered deviant and antisocial can change overtime depending on what people in power decide
      • e.g being homosexual was considered deviant, and a crime for which men were imprisoned
    • Once a person has been labelled deviant they become stigmatised affecting how others treat them. the label will be accepted by the person given it and see themselves as deviant.
      • those with negative labels are also more likely to have a lower self image and reject themselves. therefore going on to act in ways that fulfil the behaviour.
    • once labelled it is hard to get rid of the label even if no more antisocial crimes are carried out.
    • lemur introduced primary and secondary deviance.
      • primary=initial behaviour that is then labelled. secondary= the deviant behaviour shown by a person after they have been labelled and occurs when the person identifies themselves with the label.
    • retrospective labelling is looking at someones past actions once they've been given the deviant label and reinterpreting their previous actions.
    • projective labelling is when a person is labelled that label is used to predict their future behaviour.
    • strengths and weaknesses
      • weaknesses
        • emphasises the interactive process of labelling and ignores the processes that lead to the original deviant acts. such processes might include differences in socialisation, attitudes and opportunities
        • labelling theory says no acts are criminal until labelled in society however some acts like murder are considered wrong across all societies and don't need to be labelled
        • Lemerts study of cheque forgers show that often they take part in systematic and habitual behaviour long before they are caught as deviant. so their career was established before labelling.
      • strengths
        • Schwartz and skolnick found that being legally accused will most likely affect a person's chances of finding employment, result in a loss of social status, and consequentlybring on further contact with law enforcement personnel.
        • Liberian et al studied 58 juveniles who had been arrested for the first time and compared them to a control group  that were mat he'd for family, peer and neighbourhood factors. those who had been previously arrested were more likely to offend and be arrested than the control group.


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