I have always been curious to know if the labeling theory was a useful theory. I have always considered the labeling theory to be a hard theory to measure. It is hard to measure if a label becomes the cause for a person to become delinquent. Is it the label or some other factors? This paper will go into detail about some of the main contributors to the labeling theory. It will explain how the contributors applied the labeling theory. This paper will also explain how the labeling theory grew into what it is today. And it will summarize two empirical articles of the labeling theory.
Many labeling theorists believe that labeling and reacting to offenders as criminals has dangers consequences and it helps deepen the criminal behavior and making the crime problem worse. They believe that the criminal justice system is dangerous in the sense that it is casting the net of social control too widely. Labeling theorist is concern with how the self identity and behavior of an individual is influenced by how that person is label and portrayed by others in society, and just like "beauty, deviance is seen in the eyes of the beholder. There is nothing inherently deviant in any human act, something is deviant only because some people have been successful in labeling it so (Jerry Simmons 1969,Liqun Cao pg134)."
The labeling theory originated from sociology and criminology and many people believe that the labeling theory focuses on the negative consequences of stigmatizing the individuals who are labeled as criminal, delinquent, and or deviant. The labeling theory also, focuses on how the majority tends to negatively label minorities or those people who are seen as deviant from the norms of society. The labeling theory was real prominent in the mid 1960's and early 1970's, because of the rapid social change of that time era. Instead of asking who is a deviant or criminal, labeling theory sees it as always a process of interaction between at least two kinds of people: those who commit a deviant/criminal act and those who are watching the act (Liqun Cao pg134).
Frank Tannenbaun was perhaps the first labeling theorist, back in 1938, when he wrote Crime and Community. Tannenbaum suggested that deviant behavior was not so much a product of the deviant's lack of adjustment to society as it was the fact that he/she had adjusted to special group (Liqun Cao pg134). His main concept was the dramatization of evil and with it, he argued that the process of tagging, defining, identifying, segregating, describing, and emphasizing any individual out for special treatment becomes a way of stimulating, suggesting, and evoking the very traits that are complained of. A person becomes the thing they are described as being.
Edwin Lemert is probably best known for developing what is called the societal reaction approach. This approach distinguishes between primary and secondary deviance. Primary deviance is individuals who get themselves involved in rule breaking behavior and do not see themselves as deviant and "are initial acts of norm violations or crime that have very little influence on the actor and can be quickly forgotten (Liqun Cao pg135)." Primary deviance arises for a wide variety of reasons, biological, psychological, and or sociological. Secondary deviance is individuals who accept their deviant status. When a negative label gets applied to someone visibly and powerfully it becomes apart of that person's identity and that is what Edwin Lemert called secondary deviance. Secondary or intensified deviance becomes a means of defense, attack, or adaptation to the problems caused by societal reaction to primary deviation. Societal reaction is more important to study since it sheds light on things like community tolerance quotients. Societal reaction theorists often make claims similar to functionalists, that the process of defining and suppressing deviance is important to social solidarity. Sometimes, this is also referred...
Bibliography: Becker, Howard. Outsiders, The Free Press Of Glencoe, 1963.
Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish, Vintage Books, 1977.
Braithwaite, John. Crime, Shame and Reintegration, Cambridge University Press, 1989
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