Interactionism and labelling theory


The social construction of crime

-Labelling theorists are interested in how anything criminal is called criminal in the first place. They argue that nothing is inherently criminal in itself. Instead, it becomes criminal when labelled as such; the nature of societal reaction makes it deviant. 

-In this view, deviance is in the eye of the beholder. Becker: "Social groups create deviance by creating the rules whose infraction constitutes deviance, and by applying those rules to particular people and labelling them as outsiders"- deviant is someone who has just been labelled as such. 

-This leads to labelling theorists looking at how and why laws get made- particularly moral entrepreneurs. These are people who lead a moral crusade to change the law, but Becker argues that this has two effects: Creation of new outlaws and the creation and expantion of a new social control agency to enforce rules and label offenders. Platt: idea of juvenile delinquency was originally created to protect young people at risk, with their own legal institutions. 

-Becker argues that social control agencies may seek to change the law to extend their own power. For example, the US Federal Bureau of Narcotics successfully campaigned for the passing of the Marijuana Tax act in 1937 to outlaw its use.

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Who gets labelled?

-Depends on factors such as interactions with the agencies of social control, appearance, background and personal biography, situation and circumstances of the offence. This leads to labelling theorists to look at how the laws are applied and enforced. Their studies show that agencies of social control are more likely to label groups od people as deviant or criminal. 

-Pilivan and Briar found that police decisions to arrest youth were based on physical cues, from which they made character judgements. Other factors involved included gender, class, time and place. For example, those stopped late at night were more likely to be charged, with disadvantages placed against ethnic minorities. 

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Cicourel: the negation of justice

-Officers decisions to arrest are based on their stereotypes about offenders. Cicourel found that officers typifications led to the concentration on certain 'types'. This resulted in law enforcement policies showing a class bias, in that working class areas and people fitted the police typifications more closely, resulting in more police arrests and confirming their stereotypes. 

-Cicourel also found that other agents of social control within the criminal justice system reinforced this bias. For example, probation officers held the commonsense theory that juvenile delinquency was the result of a broken homes, poverty and lack of sufficient primary socialisation. They tended to see youths from such backgrounds as likely to offend in the future and were less likely to support non-custodial sentences for them

-In Cicourels view, justice isn't fixed, but negotiable. For example, when a middle class youth was arrested, he was less likely to be charged. This was mainly because his background didn't match police typificiations of the typical delinquent and also because his parents were more likely to have a succesful argument on his behalf and ensure he was 'sorry' and closely monitored in the future to prevent future offences. As a result, he was 'counselled, warned and released', rather than prosecuted. 

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Topic versus resource

-Cicourel's study has implications for the use we make of official crime statistics recorded by the police. He argues that these statistics do not give us a valid picture of the patterns of crime and cannot be used as a resource. 

-Instead, we should treat them as a topic for sociologists to investigate. That is, we must not take crime statistics at face value; instead, we should investigate the processes that created them. This would shed light on the activities of the control agencies and how they process and label certain types of people as criminal.

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The social construction of crime statistics

-Interactionists see the official crime statistics as socially constructed. At each stage of the criminal justice system agents of social control make decisions about whether or not to proceed to the next stage. The outcome depends on the label they attach to the suspect or defendant in the course of their interactions. This label is likely to be affected by the typifications they hold.

-As a result, the statistics produced by the criminal justice system only tell us about the activities of the police and prosecutors, rather than about crime and who commits it. The statistics are really just counts of decisions made by control agents at the different decision gates.

-The dark figure of crime: the difference between the official statistics and the real rate of crime is called the dark figure of crime because we dont know how much crime goes unreported, unrecorded and undetected. 

-Alternative statistics: Some sociologists use victim surveys, but people within these can forget, lie, exaggerate, conceal etc when asked if they've committed or been the victim of a crime. Also, these usually include a selection of offences.

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Lemert: Secondary deviance

-Master status: some deviance is labelled. Secondary deviance is the result of societal reaction. Being caught and publically labelled as a criminal can involve being stigmatised, shamed, humiliated, shunned or excluded from society. Once an individual is labelled, others may only see them as this label. This becomes their master status, overriding all others. In the eyes of the world they are no longer a parent, friend or neighbour; they are a theif, junkie or pedo- an outsider.  This can provoke a crisis for the individuals self concept or sense of identity, so they will turn into what the world sees them as. In turn, this leads to a self fulfilling prophecy, in which the individual acts out or lives up to their deviant label. Lemert refers to the further deviance that results from acting out secondary deviance. 

-Deviant career:  Secondary deviance is likely to provoke further hostile reaction from society and reinforce the deviants outsider status. Again, this in turn may lead to more deviance and a deviant career. For example, the ex-convict may find it hard to get his life straight because no one will employ him so he seeks further support from outsiders. This may involve joining a deviant subculture that offers deviant career opportunities and role models, rewards deviant behaviour and confirms his deviant identity.

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Young: secondary deviance

-Uses the concepts of secondary deviance and deviant career in his study of hippy marijuana users in Notting Hill. Initially, drugs were peripheral to the hippies lifestyle; an example of secondary deviance. However, persecution and labelling by the control culture led to the hippies seeing themselves as outsiders. They retreated into closed groups where they began to develop a deviant subculture, wearing longer hair and more way out clothes. Drug use became a central activity, attracting further attention from the police and creating a self fulfilling prophecy. 

-The work of Lemert and young illustrates the idea that it isn't the act itself, but hostile societal reaction to it, that creates serious deviance. Ironically, therefore, the social control processes that are meant to produce law abiding behaviour may produce the opposite.

-However, although a deviance career is a commom outcome of labelling, labelling theorists are quick to point out that it not inevitable. Downes and Rock note that we cannot predict whether someone who has been labelled will follow a deviant career, because they're always free to choose not to deviate further. 

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Deviance amplification spiral

-Refers to the attempt to control deviance leading to an increase in the level of deviance. This leads to greater attempts to control it and then produces even higher levels of deviance. More and more control produces increasing levels of devaince, in an escalating spriral, as seen in the hippie case by Young. 

-Labelling theorists applied the concept of the deviance amplification spiral to various forms of group behaviour. An example of this is Cohen's Folk devils and moral panics,  a study of the societal reaction of mods and rockers disturbances at english seaside resorts.

-Press exaggeration and distorted reporting of the events began a moral panic with growing public concern and with moral entrepeneurs calling for a crackdown. The police responded by arresting more youths, while the courts imposed harsher penalties. This seemed to confirm the truth of the original media reaction and provoked more public concern, in an upward spiral of deviance amplification. At the same time, the demonising of the mods and rockers as 'folk devils' caused their further deviant behaviour on their part. 

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Deviant amplification spiral as similar to seconda

-Societal reaction to an initial deviant act leads to further deviance, not successful control. This then leads to greater reactions making the situation get worse. It also illustrates a an important difference between labelling theory and functionalist theory of deviance. As Lemert states, these theories: "rest heavily on the idea that deviance leads to social control. I have come to believe that the reverse idea i.e. social control leads to deviance."

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Folk devils vs. the dark figure of crime

-Folk devils in a sense are the opposites to the dark figure of crime. While dark is about unlabelled, unrecorded crime that is ignored by the public and the police, folk devils and their actions are over labelled and over exposed to the public and attentions of the authorities. In terms of law enforcement and the justice system, the pursuit of folk devils draws resources away from detecting and punishing the crimes that make up the dark figure, such as crimes of the powerful.

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Labelling and criminal justice policy

-Studies have shown how increases in the attempt to control and punish young offenders can have the opposite effects. For example, in the USA, Triplett notes an increasing tendency to see young offenders as evil and be less tolerance of minor deviance. The criminal justice system has relabelled status offences more seriously, resulting in harsher sentences (Truancy). As predicted by Lemert's theory of secondary deviance, this has resulted in an increase rather than decrease in offending. De Hann notes a similar outcome in Holland as a result of the increasing stigmatisation of young offenders. 

-These findings indicate that labelling theory has important policy implications. They add weight to the argument that negative labelling pushes offenders to a deviant career. Therefore, to reduce deviance we should reduce the amount of rules. 

-For example, by decriminalising soft drugs, we might reduce the number of people with criminal convictions and hence the risk of secondary deviance. Similarly, labelling theory implies that we should avoid public humiliation of offenders, since this is likely to create a perception of them as outsiders and force them into further deviance. 

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Reintegrative shaming

-Braithwaite notices a more positive role for the labelling process.

-Disintegrative shaming: both the crime ahd the criminaln are labelled as bad and they're excluded from society

-Reintegrative shaming: labels the crime, but not the actor-'he has done a bad thing' rather than 'he is a bad person' 

-Policy of reintegrative shaming avoids stigmatising the offender as evil while at the same time making them aware of the extent of their wrong actions. This makes it easier for both offender and community to separate the offender from the offence and re-admit them to society. At the same time, this avoids pushing them into secondary deviance. Braithwaite argues that crime rates tend to be lower in societies where reintegrative shaming is reinforced rather than disintegrative shaming. 

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-The idea that official statistics can provide reasons for suicide are rejected, we must understand its meanings. 

-Douglas takes an interactionist approach; he rejects the use of official suicide statistics for the same reason interactionists distrust official crime statistics. Both are socially constructed and tell us about the people who construct them, not the actual reasons for crime or suicide in society. For example, whether a death comes to be officially labelled as suicide rather than an accient or homicide depends on the interactions between the social actors involved in decision making. 

-For instance, relatives may feel guilty about failing to prevent the desth anf press for a verdict of misadventure rather than suicide. Similarly, a coroner with strong religious beliefs that suicide is a sin may be reluctant to bring in a suicide verdict. 

-Douglas argues we must use qualitative methods, such as analysing suicide notes, unstructured interviews or those who survived a suicide attempt. This would allow us to get behind the labels attached to these deaths and their true meaning. 

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Atkinson: coroners' commonsense knowledge

-Agrees that official statistics are merely a record of the labels coroners attach to deaths. He argues that it is impossible to know for sure what meanigs the dead gave to their deaths. 

-He therefore focuses on the taken for granted assumptions that coroners use when reaching their verdicts. He found that their ideas of a typical suicide were important; certain modes of death, location and circumsrances and life history are typical of suicides. One coroner said that if the deceased had taken more than 10 sleeping pills. 'I can be almost sure it was suicide'.

-However, Atkinson's approach can be used against him. If he is correct that all we do have is interpretations of the social world, rather than real facts about it, then his account is no more than an interpretation and there is no good reason to accept it. 

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Mental illness

-As with crime and suicide, interactionists reject official statistics on mental illness because they regard these as social constructs. That is, they're simply a record of the activities of thoese such as psychiatrists with the power to label such as schizo or paranoid to others. Crime, suicide and mental illness statistics are artefacts, not objective social facts. 

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Paranoia as a a self fulfilling prophecy

-As with crime, interactionists are interested in how a person comes to be labelled as mentally ill and the effects of this labelling. An example of this is Lemert's study of paranoia. Lemert notes that some individuals dont fit easily into groups. As a result of this primary deviance, the person is labelled as odd and thus excluded. 

-His negative response to this is the beginning of his secondary deviance and it gives others further reason to exclude him. They may begin discussing the best way to deal with this difficult person. This seems to confirm his suspicions that people are conspiring against him. His reaction justifies their fears for his mental health and this may lead to psychiatric intervention, leading to official labelling and potential hospitalisation against his will. As a result, 'mental patient' becomes his master status and everything he does will be interpreted in this light. 

-Rosenhan's 'psuedo-patient experiment' researchers heard patients claiming to hear voices. They were diagnosed as schizo as their master status and treat by staff as mentally ill. For example, the pseudo patients kept notes of their experiences, but staff interpreted this as a sign of their illness. 

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-Goffman's classic study of asylums show some of the possible effects of being admitted to a total institutions. 

-One admission undergoes a 'mortification of the self' in which their old identity is symbolically killed off and replaced by a new one: inmate. This is achieved by various 'degradation rituals', such as confiscation of personal effects. Goffman notes the similarities with other total institutions such as prisons, armies and monastreries. 

-Goffman also shows that while some inmates become institutionalised, internalising their new identity and unable to re-adjust to the outside world, others adopt various forms or resistance or accomodation to their new situation. 

-An example comes from Braginskis study of long term psych patients. They found that inmates manipulated their symptoms to appear not well enough to be discharged, but well enough to have free will around the hospital. 

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