Crime and Deviance: Labelling Theory

Revision Cards for A2 Crime and Deviance Labelling Theories.

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  • Created by: Pheebie
  • Created on: 27-10-12 11:36

Howard Becker

  • 'No act is deviant unless it is labelled in such a way by society'
  • MORAL ENTREPRENEURS: Make rules and laws that do not benefit those which they apply to.
  •  This in turn creates out laws.
  • It also creates the formation and expansion of control agents e.g. the Police.
  • EXAMPLE: US outlawed marijuana in 1937 redefining the behaviour of smoking it as deviant. boosting the powers of law enforces and ostracised the users of the drug.


 Another example is that described by Platt who found in Victorian times moral entrepreneurs wanted to make sex before marriage illegal. 


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  • Police focused on a certain types of youths.'Typification.'
  • Justice negotiation occurs, middle classes get better lawyers or 'know the system better' so are less likely to get a conviction.
  • This skews statistics, therefore labelling theorists don't take them at face-value.


Police decisions to arrest youths were based on stereotypes such as age, gender, ethnicity, etc...


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Edwin Lemert

PRIMARY DEVIANCE: Crime that has not yet been labelled e.g. fare dodging.

SECONDARY DEVIANCE: Deviance as a result of societies reactions e.g. Being labelled publicly labelled after you have committed of crime so you're ostracised from society.

  • Self concept changes leading to an identity crisis, the new label is accepted by the person so the self-fulfilling prophecy occurs.
  • This is a very deterministic view as it assumes no one can do anything to change their label.


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Jock Young: Deviance Amplification Spiral

  • Attempts to control deviance actually produces an increase in deviance.
  • This leads to greater control and higher levels of deviance.


  • Police convicted Hippy Marijuana users in Notting Hill, London.
  • This lead them to become ostracised from society.
  • They formed small closed groups (subcultures.) 
  • The central activity of these subcultures were drug use which became a central activity.


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Cohen: Moral Panic

  • Press exaggerate the truth when a crime caused by a group of people.
  • Police increase the amounts of arrests which public see as confirming the extent of the crime.
  • This causes a moral panic by the public.
  • It also marginalises the group of people that committed the crime further.
  • This occurred in the 1960's with the Mods and Rockers.


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DISINTERGRATIVE SHAMING: Not only the crime but the criminal is labelled deviantly and excluded from society.

INTERGRATIVE SHAMING: Labels the crime not the criminal so he can go back to society, this helps avoid stigmatism and avoids punishing them into secondary deviance.


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Evaluation of Labelling Theory


  • Shows Law is not a fixed set of rules.
  • Shows that Law can be discriminating.
  • Shows that statistics should not always be taken at face value.
  • Shows that attempts to control deviance can back fire.


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Evaluation of Labelling Theory


  • Deterministic
  • Emphasises negative effects of labelling.
  • Assumes offenders of passive victims of labelling.
  • Fails to explain primary deviance.
  • Implies there would be no deviance with out labelling, yet most criminal are aware that what they are doing goes against social norms.
  • Fails to analyse the source of power but recognises that there is one.
  • Ignores the real victims of crime.
  • Ignores the individuals who actively chose deviance.


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