Labelling Theory

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Labelling Theory

As Howard Becker puts it "social groups creat deviance by creating rules whose infaction (brekaing) constitutes deviance, and by applying those rules to particular people and labelling them as 'outsiders'. For Becker therefore a deviant is someone who the label has been successfully applied.

They are particularly interested in 'moral entreprenuers' these are those who lead a moral crusade to change the law in the beleif that it will beenift those to whom it is applied. Becker argues that this new law invariablt has two affects:

  • Creation of a new group of 'outsiders'
  • Creation or expansion of the social control agency

Platt (1969) argues that the idea of 'juvinile delinquency' was created as a result of a campaign upper class Victorian Entrepreneurs aimed at projecting young people at risk. This established 'juviniles' as a spereate category of offender with own courts and enabeld the state to exapand its powers beyond criminal offences of the young.

Pilivan an Briar (1964) argued that the police decisions to arrest a youth were mainly on physical cues (manner and dress) from which they would make judgements about the youth's character.

Cicourel (1968) found that officers typifications - their commonsense theories or stereotypes about what a particular offender would be like led them to concentrate on certian 'types' This resulted in law enforcement showing a class bias and more working class areas were police patroled more intently resulting in more arressts confirming this stereotype. In Cicourel's view justice is not fixed but is negotiable. An example of this is if a middle class youth was arressted he was less likely to be charged because their background did not fit the idea of the police 'typical delinquent.

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Effects of Labelling

Lemert (1951) distinguished between primary and secondary deviance. Primary deviance were those acts that had not been publically labelled.  Lemert argues that it is pointless trying to seek the cause of primary deviance because it is so widespread. These acts are not part of an organised devaint way of life.

Some deviance is labelled as secondary deviance which is the result of societal reaction. Once an individual is labelled this becomes their master status or controlling identity overiding all others. This can provoke a crisis for the individuals self-concept, one way to resolve this is for the individual to accept the deviant label and see themselves as the world sees them.

Young (1981) uses the concepts of secondary deviance in the study of hippy marijuana users in Nottinghill. Intially drugs were preipheral to the hippies lifestyle. However, persecution and labelling by the control culture led the hippies to increasingly see themselves as outsiders. Drug use became a central activity inviting further attention form the police and create a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Deviance amplificatiion spiral is used by labelling theorists and is used to describe a process in which the attempt to control deviance leads to an increase in the level of deviance. This leads to a greater level to control it and in turn produces yet higher levels of deviance. 

Cohen (1972) study of Folk Devils and Moral Panics a study of societal reaction to the 'mods and rockers' disturbances involving groups of youths at the seaside resort of Clacton in 1964. Press exageration and distorted reporting of the event began a moral panic sith growing public concern. The police repsonded by arresting more youths while the courts gave harsher penalties this seemed to provoke more public reaction in an upward deviance amplification spiral.

Braithwate (1989) identifies a psositive role for the labelling process by distinguising between tow different forms of labelling: disintergrative shaming - where both the act and the criminal is labelled as bad reintergrative shaming - act but not actor.

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Labelling Theory Evaluation

Deterministic in assuming that once someone is labelled a deviant carrier is inevitable.

Emphasis on the negative effects of labelling gives the offender a victim status, realist sociologists argues that this ignores the real victims of crimes.

Assuming offenders are passive victims of deviance, ignoring the fact that individuals may actively choose deviance.

Fails to explain why people commit primary devaince in the first place.

Implies without a label deviance would not exist. Leads to the strange conclusion that someone who has committed a crime but is not labelled has not deviated.

First theory to recognise power in creating deviance, however fails to analyse source of this power.

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