Labelling Theory


The nature of deviance is socially constructed

  • Becker what we countas crime and deviance is based on subjective decisions made by ‘moral entrepreneurs’ (agents of social control). This means individuals decide what actions they consider criminal acts or deviant behaviour.
  • Deviance is simply forms of behaviour that powerful agencies of social control label as such (i.e. societal reaction).
  • For Becker this means that crime & deviance varies overtime inevitably between cultures.
  • Ethnomethodologists argue that deviance is 'in the eye of the beholder' e.g. some would view conceptual artists as deviant, whereas others would see it as cool or inspiring.
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Selective Labelling

Becker argues that selective law enforcement shapes the distribution of crime & deviance in society. He further says that it depends who has committed the deviant act and the negotiations taken place between the 'social actors' (criminal and police). He believes that powerless groups such as youth and are more likely to be labelled than powerful groups. 

  • Black people are 8x more likely to be stopped and searched by police than white people.
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Consequences of Labelling

  • Deviance can be aplified by the act of labelling itself. The media can exaggerate actions made by deviant groups which leads to societal reaction and the police may intensify their actions by  stop and search. This may therefore lead to more cases being uncovered that they may not have originally found, therefore amplifying the situation.
  • Labelling may also lead to a master status on individuals of which can be life long labels affecting daily lives as they become stigmatised. Eventually a self-fulfilling prophecy will occur due to the individual having nowhere else to go meaning they have to accept their label and continue their deviant behaviour. Becker suggest that once the label is accepted, individuals may join or form deviant subcultures where their acts may become more frequent.
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