The labelling theory is a micro interactionist approach, this is because it focuses on how individuals construct the social world through face-face interactions. It recognises the concept of the ‘procedural self’ where ones identity is continuously constructed and recognised in interaction with significant others, this results in the individual’s behaviour, including that related to crime and deviance.
Significant others are those who are in high social power and thus able to dictate influence and actively determine an individual’s life. Such individuals may include police officers, prison officers, politicians, parents and teachers. Feminists would argue however that these are all the males in society, determining and controlling the lives of females, keeping society patriarchal. The influence that significant others place on individuals lives is through the use of labels, the labels aren’t usually based on individual characteristics, more so stereotypes, working assumptions and professional knowledge. For example Cicaurel found that police patrolled working class areas more intensively, resulting in more arrests, this is due to the police’s stereotypical view that delinquent individuals are part of the working class.
Lemert distinguishes between primary and secondary deviance in society. Primary deviance involves minor offences such as vandalism or smoking underage and these acts are usually uncaught or insignificant. However an individual may be caught for such acts and inturn be labelled as delinquent or deviant, the social reaction of this label results in the development of secondary deviance: more serious crimes such as assault or drugs. This therefore illustrates that it is not the act itself but the hostile societal reaction by significant others that creates serious deviance, thus crime and deviance being products of the labelling process.