To What Extent Does Labelling Theory Offer a Useful Contribution to the Study of Crime and Deviance in Today’s Society

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Labelling Theory

To what extent does labelling theory offer a useful contribution to the study of crime and deviance in today’s society

This assignment will Discuss labelling theory, it will attempt to explore the contributions made by labelling theorists, the criticism towards labelling theorists, and the discussion surrounding its reality as an actual theory. However the main focus will be proving an understanding of Howard Becker‘s Labelling Theory and will describe and evaluate Labelling Theory to the study of crime. In conclusion it will discuss how relevant labelling theory is today. According to (Wellford, 1975) Labelling Theory or The Social Reaction Theory as it is more often known has been around and has developed over time from as early as 1938. It became very popular during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s were it was seen as a new departure in theories of crime and deviance particularly in sociology. Edwin Lemert is widely recognized as the founder of what is called the Societal Reaction Theory. This is the forerunner to the Social Reaction or Labelling Theory which has present day acceptance and includes many of the same concepts. Currently, labelling theory suggests that when a person commits a crime, they receive the label of criminal. When a person is labelled criminal by society, they are likely to accept this label as a part of themselves and because the person now thinks of themselves as a criminal, they are now likely to continue in their criminal behaviour (Becker, 1963). This is still relevant to this day, e.g. if a male was to murder a female he will always be seen and known as a criminal. In order to understand labelling theory, familiarization is needed with Lemert’s Societal Reaction Theory. This theory explores the journey to social deviance in two stages; primary deviance and secondary deviance. Howard Becker is widely associated with the labelling theory through his volume Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance. He also developed the term "moral entrepreneur" to describe persons in power who campaign to have certain deviant behaviour outlawed. He asserts that many of the laws that have been passed have been solely for this purpose, and that behaviour which is defined as criminal is dynamic and changes throughout time and that therefore, the actual criminal behaviour is irrelevant to the theory. (Becker, 1963). Becker himself has stated however, that the concept of his work is not a theory, with all the achievements and obligations that go with the title, or focused solely on the act of labelling as some have thought. It is not a single concept, being instead a number of assorted ideas that have been brought together under one approach, although critics have called the work ambiguous, inconsistent and at best a vague perspective Becker, never sought to provide an all-embracing, etiological explanation of deviance Becker himself prefers the term 'Interactionist Theory of Deviance' developing the study of deviance from a distinctly social perspective, considering the processes by which particular types of act or people, come to be labelled as deviant. He has been influenced by works such as Cooley's 'looking-glass self' , Lemert's ideas of social constructionism , and Mead's theories on the internalisation of the self, Becker makes two arguments: 1. Deviant behaviour must be conceptualized in terms of a sequential model since different causes operate at different stages, 2. Rules and enforcement processes must be viewed as developing through time rather than as an isolated moment of disapproval.

Definition of Labelling Theory
Also known as Social Reaction Theory, this is a theory originated by Edwin Lemert and then developed by sociologist Howard Becker. It is a social theory concerned with how people perceive themselves as delinquent or criminal due to the labels, which categorized...
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