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Using material from Item A and elsewhere, assess the usefulness of labelling theory in explaining
crime and deviance
According to the interactionism, society acts differently to those who have been labelled therefore
deviants are not different to the rest of society but their behaviour is labelled as different. Behaviour
only becomes deviant when it is seen as such. For example, injecting drugs is not inherently deviant
but others may think negatively of it therefore injecting drugs will have a negative label.
Social control agencies, police and the justice system, who directs the behaviour of its members,
shape patterns of crime and deviance. Interpretivists will argue that human behaviour is not
determined by social forces but people are self conscious: how they are perceived by society. This
could cause people to live up to their label or act differently to their label.
Becker argues that there is no such thing as an deviant act but it only becomes deviant when others
perceive it as such. Social groups i.e. the upper class create the definition of deviance by making the
rules/laws and influences the rest of society through the media. This implies that no other social class
has the power to determine what deviance is but the definition of deviance varies to different social
Furthermore, Aaron Cicourel argues that typifications- commonsense theories of sterotypes about
offenders of what typical delinquents are like. The upper class have power over law enforcement
showing a class bias. Working class areas and people fitted police typification more closely due to
ethnic background, gender and education.
Aaroun Cicourel conducted a study using participant and non participant observation of juvenile
justice system over a four year period. Although the study has benefits: conducted in a natural
environment and high ecological validity, the study also has some limitations. There is no way of
knowing whether the methods enable Aaron to produce valid interpretations of what he observed.
Also, the study lacks cultural bias and would not be generalised to non western countries.
Jock Young also conducted a study based on labelling and deviance. The study took place in 1960s
and was a study of hippie marihuana users. The subculture was rejected by conviential society as they
were labelled as deviant. A criticism of the study is that Young didn't explain why certain types of
people are selected for being deviant. However, certain types of people are excluded for labelling.
This may be due to primary and secondary deviance.
Edwin Lemert introduced primary and secondary deviance. This refers to deviant act which have not
been publically labelled. An example, fraud committed by the upper class. Because the upper class
controls what deviance is, they wouldn't attach a label to their behaviour. On the other hand,
secondary deviance refers to the act which has been publically labelled as deviant. Societal reaction,
the reaction of society and the way others react to someone, labelled as deviant may have a
dramatic effect on that person's status and identity. This could lead to further deviant acts that will
produce a self fulfilling prophecy: a prediction that comes true. A study carried out on `lad'
subcultures emphasises this.
Paul Willis conducted a study with working class lads with regards to the labelling theory. If pupils
acted a certain way, look a particular way and how they behaved determined their labels
(Hargreaves) For example; working class boys were deviant in the classroom and formed pupil
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The same type of label is given to the
working class outside the education system whether they are deviant or not.
Deviance amplification is a term used to describe a process in which the attempt to control deviance
leads to an increase in the level of deviance. Stan Cohen conducted a study of the societal reaction.
Folk Devils and Moral panics. This is when the media influence society of what is deviant behaviour.…read more