Labelling Theory

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  • Labelling Theory
    • The social construction of deviance
      • Becker - social groups create deviance by creating rules and applying them to particular people whom they label as 'outsiders'.
      • An act or person only becomes deviant when labelled by others as deviant.
      • Social control agencies (police, courts etc.) tend to label certain groups as criminals.
      • Piliavin & Briar - found police decisions to arrest were based on stereotypical ideas about manner, dress, gender, class, ethnicity, time and place.
      • Cicourel - police use typifications of the 'typical delinquent' individuals fitting the typification are more likely to be sopped, arrested and charged.
        • W/c and ethnic minority juveniles - more likely to be arrested, and those from broken homes etc. are more likely to be charged.
        • M/c juveniles - less likely to fit the typification, have parents who can negotiate successfully on their behalf, and are less likely to be charged.
      • W/c people fit police typifications, so police patrol w/c areas, reuslting in more w/c arests.
      • Therefore crime statistics recorded by the police do not give a valid picture of the crime patterns.
      • Cicourel argues that we cannot take crime statistics at face value or use them as a resource, so hey should be treated as a topic and investigate the processes by which they are constructed.
      • Marxists criticise labelling theory for failing to locate the origin of such labels in the unequal structure of capitalist society.
    • The effects of labelling
      • Lemert distinguishes between primary and secondary deviance.
      • Primary deviance - deviant acts that have not been publicly labelled.  They have many causes, are often trivial and mostly go uncaught. Those who commit them do not usually see themselves as deviant.
      • Labelling theory fails to explain why people commit primary deviance in the first place, before they are labelled.
      • Secondary deviance - results from societal reaction i.e. labelling someone as an offender can involve stigmatising and excluding them from normal society. Others may see them as this label, which becomes their master status/controlling identity.
      • Being labelled can provoke a crisis for the person's self-concept and lead to a SFP in which they live up to the label, resulting in secondary deviance.
      • Further societal reaction can reinforced their outsider status and lead them to joining a deviant subculture.
      • Young - Hippy marijuana users.
        • Drug use was peripheral to their lifestyle (primary deviance).
        • But police persecution of them as junkies (societal reaction) lead them to retreat unto closed groups.
        • This developed a deviant subculture in which drug use became central activity (SFP)
      • Labelling theory is sometimes accused of being too deterministic - of assuming that, once labelled SFP is inevitable.
      • Deviance amplification spiral is the attempt to control deviance which leads to increasing deviance rather than decreasing it.
      • Cohen - folk devils and moral panics.
        • Media exaggeration and distortion began moral panic, with growing public concern.
        • Moral entrepreneurs called for a 'crackdown'. Police responded by arresting more youths, provoking more concern.
        • Demonising the mods and rockers as 'folk devils' marginalised them further, resulting in more deviance.


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