Labeling Theory

Topics: Sociology, Criminology, Symbolic interactionism Pages: 3 (639 words) Published: April 25, 2013
Ashley Fernandes
Professor Blanchette
Assignment 1
22 February 2013


Labeling theory by definition is based on the idea that behaviors are deviant only when society labels them as deviant. In other words, when the society has a reaction to certain behaviors the victim has done. These people become “deviant” due to the labels they have received by the authorities, for example, theft, prostitution, homosexuality, addiction, etc. Deviance means actions or behaviors that violate social norms. There are many people who have helped create the labeling theory, Howard Becker, Edwin Lemert, Charles Horton Cooley, George Herbert Mead, Frank Tannenbaum, and many more. In the early 1950’s, works from Howard Becker and Edwin Lemert had similar concepts. Becker analyzed the conditions of the labeling theory in his book entitled The Outsiders in 1963. He defines deviance as "not a quality of a bad person but the result of someone defining someone’s activity as bad." He also created the term “moral entrepreneurs”, which is when someone will purposely receive a negative label. Lemert made the distinction between primary deviance and secondary deviance. Primary deviance is “rule-breaking behavior that is carried out by people who see themselves and are seen by others as basically conformist,” meaning that people break the rules for all different situations and for many reasons. Secondary deviance when a negative label “gets applied so widely and so strongly that it becomes part of that individual's self.” For example, it is stating that if a person were to break the law and get arrested, they may have a harder time finding a job because employers would not want a criminal working for them. The criminal label will stay with them. Charles Horton Cooley had somewhat of a different approach on the labeling theory; he saw it as a looking glass self. The looking glass self is depicted as the way we think about ourselves to be a reflection of other...

References: Bryant, L. (2007). The labeling theory. History learning site. Retrieved from
Crossman, A. (2013). Labeling theory. Sociology information, resources, and news.
Dye, S. (2010). Labeling theory: history of forensic psychology. History of forensic
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