Labelling Theory in Explaining Crime and Deviance - A2 Sociology

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Using material from Item A and elsewhere, assess the usefulness of labelling theory in explaining crime and deviance. (21 marks) Labelling theorists are concerned with how and why certain people and actions come to be labelled as criminal or deviant, and what effects this has on those who are labelled as such. As stated in Item A, labelling theory is focused with how individuals construct society based on their interactions with each other. Becker emphasises the significance of crime being a social construct; an action only becomes criminal or deviant once society has labelled it so, and thus crime can be argued to be a social construction. He introduced the concept of a master label, referring to the label which a person is given which overrides all other labels. When a person is labelled as negatively, society tends to tend them as such, and this master label often becomes internalised, and thus a self-fulfilling prophecy occurs. The person accepts their label as a criminal or deviant, and this then leads to further crime as the person attempts to live up to their label. Young studied ‘hippie’ marijuana users in the 1970’s, and found support of Beckers idea of the master label. As they were labelled negatively by the police and further rejected by society, the hippies used their criminal identity as drug users to associate with one another, and distinguish themselves from society. This shows how the police and society caused deviancy amplification as the hippies increasingly used drugs because it became difficult for them to be accepted into ‘normal’ society due to their negative label. Chambliss conducted further research into this area, including his study of two all-boy subcultures in an American high school; the Saints and the Roughnecks. The Saints were 8 middle class boys and the Roughnecks were 6 working class boys. Both committed similar levels of delinquent behaviour but the Roughnecks were labelled and punished significantly more by the police and...
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