Labelling Theory

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Labelling Theory 

  • Interactionism is associated with labelling theory. 
  • Some prefer to call labelling theory a 'perspective'. 
  • Labelling theorists investigate the relationship between those who commit'deviant' acts and those who label them as such. 
  • This may be the interaction between police and 'delinquents', for example. 
  • Relationship between definers and defined. 
  • Under certain situations the application of a 'deviant' label will occur. 
  • When a person is labelled this has psychological implications. They come to understand themselves in terms of the label. 
  • A label also affects an individual's social reactions. Others may perceive and treat them differently as a result of the label. 
  • Merton - self-fulfilling prophesy. The link between labelling and future behaviour is derived from the idea of this. 
  • From the perspective of labelling theory, it is not the behaviour which is intrinsically deviant but in the responses of the social audiences. 
  • Deviance may occur, but it does not become as such until it receives this label. 
  • For example: if an individual does not get caught they will not be labelled as deviant. 
  • Behaviour may be labelled deviant in some circumstances but not in others. For example, being intoxicated may permit the behaviour whilst in another situation it would be considered deviant. 
  • The important stage for labelling theorists is when the recipient of the label begins to accept the label and sees themselves as deviant. 
  • Labelling theory marked a shift away from the focus on why deviance occurs in the first place. 
  • Lemert - primary deviation. 
  • Becker - becoming a marajuana user. 

Leaning to become deviant 

  • Becker's Outsiders found an enthusiastic audience among more radical British and American sociologists in the 1960's. 
  • Becker tried to bring together continuities between deviant and non-deviant worlds. 
  • In stead of focusing on crime, Becker focused on deviance. 
  • He shifted attention from the characteristics of the rule breaker and moved the focus to the reactions of the social audience. 
  • Becker traced the process of becoming a marajuana user. 
  • Two important elements of labelling theory are present in Becker's account. 1) An anti-deterministic stance, alowing people to make choices and exercise their wills. 2) The notion of a deviant 'career'.
  • For labelling theorists, the original cause of the deviance is not considered. They argue that deviant behaviour is widespread. However, only some of it becomes officially labelled as this. 
  • Lemert - trying to establish the original causes of the deviance is pointless. In his view, all that deviants have in common is that they have been labelled as this. 
  • Becker: social groups create deviance because they define what is to be considered as deviant behaviour. Deviance is not the quality of the act, but a consequence of the application of rules and sanctions by another. 
  • Focus of labelling theory is the application of pre-existing rules to certain groups. 
  • The rule breaking does not in itself make someone deviant - it is the social reaction which renders this as such. 
  • A response to the rule breaking is required. 

Primary and secondary deviation 

  • The impact of labelling on the


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