Labelling Theory

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  • Created by: ClaryFray
  • Created on: 24-08-15 15:03

Deviant behaviour is defined by others

Everyone is deviant but only some get caught. They look at those who create and enforce the rules. Deviance is socially constructed. It is the reactions of others that are important.

Cooley we only know ourselves through the reaction of others. We are creating what everyone else is.

Becker:What is deviant/ bad behaviour is defined by other people. Our identities are formed by each other; a deviant is simply someone to whom the label has been successfully applied.

Lemert studied stuttering and concluded that the reaction of others caused the stuttering of the children in the societies which he researched.

There are two types of deviance:

Primary- the act

Secondary - act of being labelled and the reaction of others.

The reaction of others towards the deviant is far more significant than the act itself.

Labelling can damage or destroy identities.

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Homosexuality and Crime

Plummer argues that homosexuality falls into four categories:

·         casual homosexuality-brief encounter of homosexuality

·         Situated activity-Turning to homosexual actions because of various constraints

·         Personalised homosexuality-preference of the person is homosexuality but unable to express it openly

·         Homosexuality as a way of life-people have come out and have integrated into alternative gay/lesbian cultures


Foucault and Weeks: homosexuality can be viewed less as a deviant form of personality caused abnormalities than as a social status imposed upon certain categories of acts

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·    Sexual acts between people of the same sex are more common than the stigmatised category of homosexual would suggest

·    Plummer’s categorisation of homosexual activity allows us to see quite clearly the power of labelling and the response to it. The last category shows how a group can develop strategies to change the way that society views them. They attempt to shift the discourse.

·     However the labelling theory implies that groups labelled as deviant are always powerless and must accept the stigma of the label.

·     Labelling as a process is not clear cut and it differs from person to person as well as the response.

·     Kitsuse asked mature students what constituted as homosexual behaviour and the definitions and responses varied considerably.

·     However Kitsuse assumed that the respondents in his research were themselves heterosexual; it is possible that part of the variety of responses could be linked to the sexual preferences of the respondents

·    The work of labelling theorists’ shows that it’s not the act itself which causes deviance but the societal reaction.

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