"Words [or labels], like little buckets, are assumed to pick up their loads of meaning in one person's mind, carry them across the intervening space, and dump them into the mind of another" (Osgood 1979:213)
Within criminal justice Labelling Theory has been seen as a way of manipulating and encouraging both the would be offender to think and behaviours in a particular way so as to live up to the label and equally to manipulate and direct the thoughts and actions of those that work and manage the system e.g. a label encourages them to takes on particular negative perspective or bias towards a person or group of people. This essay will focus on describing all aspects of Labelling Theory in relation to crime and the criminal justice system. It will also evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of Labelling Theory which dominated sociological theory of crime and thinking in the 1960’ and 70’s.
Tannenbaum (1938); Lemert (1951) and Becker (1963) were amongst the first theorists to explore Labelling Theory as an aspect of criminality and the criminal justice system applicable to westernised societies. In particular, Tannerbaum (1938) has been attributed as the first labelling theorist and his main concept suggested that labelling is society’s way of ‘dramatising evil’. He claimed that “tagging, segregating, describing and emphasising aspects of an individual as deserving of special treatment”