Crime and Deviance

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Assess the view that Crime and Deviance are product of labelling.

The labelling theory was developed by sociologist Howard S. Becker. Becker believed that deviance is not inherent to an act, but rather instead focuses on the tendencies of vast majorities to negatively label minorities or those seen as deviant from norms.

Deviance on the whole is perceived as a social process, this is down to the idea that each society or culture creates rules of behaviour by which its members are governed and, of necessity, controlled. Ideology is crucial in defining certain behaviour as deviant and others as non-deviant because the concept is critical in terms of understanding and explaining deviance. However, ideology alone isn’t a sufficient enough explanation as it is evident that people are able to think what they like about their own and other people's behaviour, (you are free, for example, to believe it is not deviant to spit on the streets or litter). What is important is the person’s ability to enforce these as ‘normalities’ or an act of deviance.

According to Becker (63), a deviant is simply someone to whom the label of ‘deviant’ has been successfully applied upon, so therefore deviant behaviour is simply the behaviour that people label so, this goes back to my point on ideology being insufficient due to free will of what individuals perceive as ‘deviance’. Some people are more likely to be labelled as a deviant than others due to the perceived ideas of race, gender and class. Not everyone who commits an offence is punished for doing so. There are a number of factors as to whether or not the person should be arrested, charged and convicted. Significantly, a person’s appearance, background and personal life reflect who they are, for instance if a sophisticated, white, upper class student of Eden was to be caught vandalizing or drinking underage, the punishment would be far more lenient than if it were a Afro Caribbean, working class student of Scunthorpe community college caught vandalizing. This is due to the pragmatic labelling of male Afro Caribbean’s as delinquents, trouble makers and criminals from as young an age as 11. Piliavin and Briar (64) discovered police decision on whether to arrest a youth was primarily based on their physical mannerisms, i.e. Appearance and body language, from this the police judged youths. Moreover police arrests were also influenced by gender, class and ethnical background, as well as where and at what time these occurrences took place. An example of this would be that those people stopped late at night in areas of a high crime rate ran a greater risk of being arrested because of where and when they were stopped. Likewise, studies by Piliavin & Briar showed that ASBO’s (Anti-Social Behaviour Orders) were unreasonably used against those people from ethnic minorities.

Police Officer’s decisions over arrest are greatly influenced by superficial stereotypes of given offenders. A study by Cicourel (68) discovered officers ‘common sense theories’ of what an offender is like lead them to crack down on specific groups of people. The resulting outcome of this is that the police force goes out purposely searching for anyone that fits a stereotypical ‘deviant’ or anyone that fits officer’s typifications. This shows class bias within law enforcement agencies, predominately working class areas are patrolled most intensely. In doing so police officers patrol more attentively in working-class areas, leading to more arrests being made therefore the stereotype of the working class as ‘criminals’ is moreover confirmed. Cicourel deems ‘justice to be negotiable‘in that when a middle class youth is arrested, he is less likely to be charged. This is down to his/her background not fitting the stereotype that the police see as ‘delinquent’. Moreover, Cicourel sees this partly down to the negotiations made by middle class parents being far more successful in convincing the authorities that this will not occur...
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