Interactionism and Labelling Theory


Interactionist's approach

Interactionist's use an interpretivist approach by using in-depth, qualitative data from methods such as unstructured interviews to study society, and how actions and individuals become labelled as criminal. 

1 of 12

Crime is a social construction..

Interactionist's believe that crime is a social construction because no act is seen as deviant in all sitations, it simply depends on the societal reaction. 

Becker compares how the injection of heroin by an individual for non-medical purposes in public surroundings would be labelled as deviant due to the negative societal reaction, whereas the same act committed by a professional i.e doctor for medical purposes would be seen as acceptable. 

This shows how an individual is labelled as deviant depending on the societal reaction towards their actions. 

2 of 12

The effects of moral entrepreneurs..

Becker examines how the construction of new laws by moral entrepreneurs who aim to achieve social change to benefit those who are most likely to break the new law can have two effects..

  • The people who are most likely to break the law will become outsiders from society. 
  • It enables informal and formal agents of social control such as the police and the public to extend their level of power in society by redefining people and groups as deviant
3 of 12

The marijuana tax act 1937..

The marijuana tax act 1937 was introduced by moral entrepreneurs to prevent young people from using the harmful drug, however it increased the crime figures as long-term users of the drug were arrested and labelled as deviant. 

This could have resulted in further crime being committed by these groups as they became outsiders from society due to their criminal label making the public define them simply by their label, this could have altered their self-perception and resulted in a self-furfilling prophercy whereby they ultimately become their label. 

4 of 12

Pilavin and Briar's study 1964..

Pilavin and Briar criticise Becker for not explaining in-depth, why individuals become labelled as criminal. 

Their study from 1964 found that police officer's decision to arrest youths was based upon the individuals physical cues such as lack of manners and they then used these cues as a way of judging whether they have been involved in acts of crime and deviance. 

They also used other characteristics such as gender, ethnicity, class and the time/place of the event to influence their decision to arrest the youth. 

This study shows how deviant labels are not applied equally as the police officer could use these physical cues to make an incorrect judgement. For example, the youth may carry the same physical cues as a typical young offender but not actually be involved in acts of crime and deviance. 

5 of 12

Weakness of Pilavin and Briar's 1964 study..

One weakness of Pilavin and Briar's study would be that it is only useful for explaining why youths with certain physical cues are arrested.

6 of 12

Cicourel's study of the negiotiation of justice..

Cicourel studied how some individuals and groups are more likely to be labelled as deviant, he believes that police officer's have an image of a typical offender which would be individuals with poor education, low-income families, broken homes or ethnic minorities.. 

Cicourel argues that offenders from a middle-class background who do not fit the imageof a typical offender are less likely to be prosecuted. 

Also, middle-class parents can negiotiate justice for their child who has offended, this is because they do not fit the image of a typical offender, therefore they can promise that they will not re-offend and will be appropriately punished by their parents. 

Cicourel's study shows how agents of social control can create and maintain the image of a typical offender.

7 of 12

Weaknesses of Cicourel's study..

  • It is too deterministic, this is because not every police officer will uphold the same image of a typical offender. For example, a police officer from a low income background is less likely to stimitise this social group in society. 
  • Also, it does not explain why police officer's have formed the image of a typical delinquent. 
8 of 12

Lemert primary and secondary deviance..

Lemert believes that there are two types of deviance, primary and secondary..

  • Primary deviance has no societal reaction.
  • Secondary deviance is a result of the societal reaction.      

 Lemert believes the societal reaction to acts of secondary deviance can result in further acts of deviance, this is identified in his study of the North Pacific Coastal Indians..

Lemert found that the North Pacific Coastal Indian's place a high value on public speaking, and that this put pressure on the Indian's to not develop a stutter as this was seen as deviant. The community reacted to minor speech inpediments with punishments and some individuals became labelled as deviant which caused them to develop a stutter. 

This study shows how the societal reaction to secondary deviance can only lead to labelling which ultimately results in the self-furfilling prophercy and further acts of deviance as the individual becomes their label.

9 of 12

Jock Young and the master status..

Young believes that the societal reaction to secondary deviant acts can create a master status whereby the individuals criminal label becomes their most defining characteristic. This is because..

  • The criminal label will alter the individuals self-concept as society will begin to treat them with caution according to their label.
  • This then results in a self-furfilling prophercy as they begin to see themselves as their label and become it.
  • Their position in society changes, for example trying to find employment would be difficult as employers will be fearful of the individual due to their label. This then causes them to become unemployed and turn to either utilitarian crime as a survival strategy or non-utilitarian crime to express their frustration with their lack of status in society.
  • Their label then becomes their master status, which causes them to become an OUTSIDER from society.
10 of 12

Jock Young and the Nottinghill hippies..

  • Hippies were labelled as drug users by the police.
  • This caused a negative, deviant label to be placed onto the subculture.
  • This societal reaction caused them to view themselves in the same way as wider society did. 
  • They retreated into a closed group and rejected wider society as they become outsiders.
  • This ulimately resulted in a self-furfilling prophercy as their drug use was seen as their master status. 
11 of 12

Albert Cohen and his mods n rockers..

Albert Cohen studied the conflict between the two subcultures called the mods and rocker's polarised by their choice of transport, clothing and music taste, they committed acts of violence in sea side towns in the 1960's and disturbed the peace among the public. The media reported the events in a distorted way by using news values to exagerate the level of violence, this caused a moral panic as the subcultures were labelled a folk devils i.e feared by society. This societal reaction ordered tougher action to be taken by the police and the subcultures began to view themselves in the same way as wider society as their self-perception changed, this then caused further acts of deviance and they became outsiders from wider society as their violence was seen as their master status. 

This is called a deviancy amplification spiral as the agents of social control (the police) attempts to control the level of deviance only increased it.

12 of 12


No comments have yet been made

Similar Sociology resources:

See all Sociology resources »See all Crime and deviance resources »