Sociology of crime and deviance - Labelling perspective

  • Created by: chinwe
  • Created on: 29-04-18 20:42

Labelling perspective


Labelling theory was inroduced during the 1960's, it was developed from sybolic interactionism. The theory focuses on mirco-interaction between certain indivduals and the police, rather than looking at wider structural causes of deviancy.

Although the theory was critisesed for being too fragmented, consiting of several theories (Durkheim, Symbolic interactionism, Labelling theory) which were then applied to various aspects of scoiety (crime, delinquency, mental illness, drugs), it did lead to a shift in focus from positivistic theories on crime/delinquency (E.g, Lombroso) who focused on the biological explanations for rule-breaking behaviour, to focusing on the social causes of delinquent behaviour.

Main argument- It is not the act that makes the person deviant, it is societies reaction that awards the deviant staus upon the person, making them devient (whether the act was "criminal/deviant" or not).

Symbilic interactionism;

- Mead (1934) 'Mind, self and society'

  • In society, we group certain things into categories (tree, woman, sports). This provideds a means, whereby humans can meaningly interact with the environment. These terms/symbols have a culturally defined meaning to people, and suggest a certain way of acting. When two people interact, they amend their behaviour based on how they veiw the situation and the behaviour of other people.
  • Role taking- We are able to understand the behaviour of others through role taking. This means placing ourselves in the position of the other person.
  • The 'self'- Mead claimed, the self can only develop once the person is able to veiw himeself the way others view him. Therefore, by observing the reactions of others, we are able to build an image of our 'self'. We are then likley to act according to this- leading to labelling and self-fullfilling prophecy. This is developed through childhood, for example; playing dress up.

- Tannenbaum (1938) 'Crime and Community'

  • Belived that criminology aids the 'Dramatisation of evil', which came about through 'Tagging/labelling'. After researching delinquent youth, he found that the majority have a (linguistic) tendency to negativley labbel (tag) the minority or those they belive are deviant from society.
  • The community encouraged social control measures such as police, to tackle down on delinquent youth. Authoritive figures in society labled delinquent individuals as deviant, shifting the 'idea of wrong' from the act to the actor. For example, labbeling a child as deviant instead of his/her behaviour.
  • This may lead to the deviant living up to the label (self-fullfiling prophecy), reinforcing the label and creating further reaction from the community. "It is not the drug that makes the person an addict, rather, the concept of addiction is a social construct.

- Howard Beker (1963) 'Outsiders'

  • In Becker's 1936 'Ousiders', he argued that scientific/positivists approach to understanding the causes of rule-breaking behaviour made a mistake in taking the concept of 'deviance' for granted. This conept of 'deviance/deviant behaviour' was not questioned, therefore scientists automatically accepted the values of the group making the judgment.
  • Scientific theories belive that some acts are intrisically deviant, they fail to consider other variables such as the process of which the deviant act is judged and the situation in which this judgment has taken place. Both…


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