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The social reaction, or labeling theory as it is sometimes known, evolved over time from as early as 1938 (Wellford, 1975). Basically it states that as a person commits a crime, they will receive the label of “criminal”. When a person is labeled as such by society, they are likely to accept this label as a part of them. Because the person now thinks of him/herself as a criminal, he/she is now likely to continue in his/her criminal behavior (Becker, 1963). Erwin Lemert is credited with being the founder of what is called the “societal Reaction” theory. It is the precursor to the social reaction or labeling theory that we know now, and is necessary to be familiar with in order to understand labeling theory in its entirety. This theory divides the concept of social deviance into two subcategories. Primary deviance occurs when a person has been labeled as deviant or criminal but do not accept this label, or see themselves as such. This will remain primary as long as the actor is capable of rationalizing or dealing with this label by saying it is the result of a socially acceptable role (Lemert, 1951). An example of this would be an exotic dancer, who while labeled as deviant, does not consider herself so by claiming it is a legal profession that she must perform in order to maintain an income. This label is usually placed during what is known as a “degradation ceremony”, in which the accused is officially labeled as a criminal. Often this takes place during court sentencing, but can come about in more subtle fashions. For example the relatives of a person become withdrawn and distance themselves from that person when they find out he/she has committed a crime, whether he/she faces formal charges or not (Wellford, 1975). Secondary deviance, according to Lemert, occurs when a person finally accepts the deviant or criminal label into their self image. He/She then thinks or him/herself as a criminal or deviant. “This becomes a means of defense, attack, or adaptation to...
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