When studying crime and deviance, in particular the causes of crime, it is often useful to look at the reasons behind why people commit crimes in the first place. For interactionists, crime and deviance is a product of labelling. They believe that when a crime is committed, it is because a public application of a negative description of a powerless individual has occurred and that is the reason why a crime has been committed by that individual. Labelling is deterministic of your future life. Interactionists reject official statistics on crime, seeing them as little more than a social construction. They maintain that they vastly underestimate the extent of crime and do not present an accurate picture of crime in society.
The interactionist Jock Young conducted a participant observation in London on marijuana usage by hippies. In the past hippie usage of marijuana was minor and relatively insignificant. Over time, the police started to see the hippies as dirty and scruffy, thus giving them a negative label. Due to this police reaction, the hippies united, feeling different from the rest of society. They then retreated into small closed groups, cut off from society and deviant norms and values developed. They were treated as outsiders and chose to accentuate and express their differences by becoming more and more unconventional. Thus, a deviant career developed. Interactionists would argue that because the police had labelled them so negatively they had caused more crime. Jock Young called this deviancy amplification. Before, the hippies had not been causing any trouble; they weren’t hurting or bothering anyone, until the police labelled them. Once they had been given this label, they couldn’t help but fulfil their master status.
Lemert supports Becker’s ideas on the consequences of labelling. He maintains that primary deviance which has not been labelled has few consequences for the individual concerned. However, he claims that once deviance is labelled it becomes secondary and impacts on the individual, e.g. in terms of gaining a master status and later developing a self fulfilling prophecy.
Interactionists see various institutions as confirming the label of deviance, for example mental institutes. Erving Goffman looked at mental institutes and the treatment patients received whilst in there. Whilst studying these institutes he saw a series of interactions which had a negative effect on the patients and placed pressure on them. The effects were that they suffered degradation, humiliation, profanities of self and went through a mortification process where they were stripped of their identity. The patients were left without self concepts meaning that when they left these institutes they were unable to function in the outside world. This was because of their label. There are two distinct approaches towards mental illness. One is the medical model view, in which people who exhibit signs of bizarre behaviour need to be treated by medical practitioners and are behaving in this way because of hormonal imbalances or previous disturbing experiences. Interactions take the labelling model approach in that they say mental illness does not exist
According to the latest recidivism statistics, 50% of criminals reoffend. Interactionists would argue that this is because they have been negatively labelled and as a result feel the need to reoffend, Once you have been given a label, they believe that this label sticks with you through your life and you fulfil the prophecy that you have been given. Howard Becker said that once an act is labelled deviant, you are known as a criminal, this is your master status; you are known purely for your label, for example, a drug user will always be known in the area they live as a drug dealer. Self fulfilling occurs due to this master label and a deviant career develops. According to sociologist Roger Roots, due to the increasing computerization and accessibility of criminal records, a...
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