Crime and Deviance: Interactionism and Labelling Theory

The Social Construct of Crime

Labelling theorist believe that deviance is a social construct

  • Becker: Social groups create deviance by creating rules and applying them to particular people who they label as 'outsiders'
  • A person only acts deviant because they are labelled deviant

Differential Enforcement

  • Social control agencies e.g. police, label certain groups as criminals
  • Research found that police arrests were based on stereotypical ideas e.g. manner, dress, gender, class, ethnicity

Typifications: Individuals fitting the typification are more likely to be stopped, arrested and charged. 

  • WC and ethnic minority juviniles are most likely to be arrested
  • MC juviniles are less likely to fit stereotypes and have parents who can negotiate. 
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The Social Construct of Crime Statistics

WC people fit police typifications so police patrol WC areas resulting in more WC arrests

  • Crime statistics recorded by police do not give a valid picture of crime patterns
  • Cicoural argues that we cannot take crime statistics at face value or use them as a resource.

The Dark Figure

  • We do not know for certain how much crime goes undetected, unreported or unrecorded. 
  • Sociologists use victim surverys or self-report studies to gain a more accurate view. 

Evaluation: Some may lie about a committed crime. 

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The effects of Labelling: Primary and secondary de

Lamert argues that labelling people as deviant enourages them to be deviant thus causing a secondary devience

Primary deviance:

  • Deviant acts that have not been publicly labelled. 
  • Most acts go on uncaught
  • Those who commit deviant acts do not see themselves as deviant

Evaluation: Labelling theory fails to explain why people commit primary deviance in the first place before being labelled. 

Secondary Deviance: 

  • Results from societal reaction. 
  • Labelling someone can involve a stigmatising and excluding from normal society. 
  • Others see the offender in terms of the label which becomes the individual's master status or controlling identity. 
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The effects of Labelling: Self-fulfilling prophecy

  • Being labelled may lead to SFP thus resulting in secondary deviance
  • Societal reaction may reinforce the individual's outsider status and lead them to join a deviant subculture that offers support, role models and a deviant career. 

Evaluation: Too deterministic, assumes that once labelled, a SFP is inevitable. 

Young - Study of marijuana users shows illustrates the processes. 

  • Primary deviance - Drug use was initially minor to the hippies' lifestyle
  • Societal reaction - Police persecution of them as junkies
  • SFP - Developing a deviant subculture where drug use became a central activity.
  • The control processes aimed at prodcing law-abiding behaviour this produced the opposite.
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The effects of Labelling: Deviance amplification s

The attempt to control deviance leads it to incease, resulting in greater attemps to control it and in turn become more deviance thus escalating spiral. 

Cohen: Folk devils and Moral Panics - the study of Mods and Rockers. The fight that between two youth subcultures in English Seaside. 

Type of study: Observation and interviews.

  • Media exaggertion and distortion began a moral panis
  • Moral entrepreneurs called for a 'crackdown'. Police responded by arresting more youths provoking more concern
  • Demonising the mods and rocks as 'folk devils' marginalised them further, resulting in more deviance

Key points with functionlism:

  • Functionalists: Deviance producing social control
  • Labelling theorists: Control producing more deviance.
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Mental illness and suicide / 1

Interactionists are intestested in devant bheaviour such as mental illness and suicide

Douglas: the meaning of suicide

  • Rejects the use of official statistics, they are social constructs that tells us the labels the coroners applied
  • Uses qualitative methods e.g. the analysis of suicide notes or unstructured interviews with deceased relatives.

Atkinson: coroners' commosense knowledge

  • focuses on how coroners use taken-for-granted assumption to construct social reality
  • Ideas of 'typical suicide' affected their verdict. e.g. certain modes of death, locations and circumstances of death, and life histories as typical suicides
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Mental illness and suicide / 2

Mental illness: Interactionists reject the use of official statistics as social construct - records the activities of the doctor with the power to attatch labels as 'schizophrenic' 

Paranoia as SFP:

  • Interactionists are interested on how a person comes to be labelled as mentally ill 
  • Lamert shows how socially awkward individuals may be abelled and excluded from groups
  • The individual negative response gives the group reason to fear for his mental health and think it leads to a medical label of paranoia 


  • Goffman: Shows possible effects of being admitted to a 'total institution' such as a psychiatric hospital
  • Patients undergo a 'mortification of the self' in which their old identity is 'killed off' and replaced by anew one: inmate. this is achieved by 'degradation rituals' e.g. confiscation of personal effects.
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