What kinds of examples might be sited to support

Brief 103044

What kinds of illustrations might be cited to back up labelling theorist’s accent on the debatable and selective application of condemnable labels?

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Are the effects of such labels ever probably to be negative?

How and how far do such labelling procedure and effects occur in other kingdoms of societal life beside offense?

Labeling has been defined as:

A sociological attack to understanding offense and deviancy which refers to the societal procedures through which certain persons and groups classify and categorise the behavior of others. On this footing labelled persons are stereotyped to move in certain ways and are responded to consequently. Such reaction tends to reenforce a self construct as pervert and has the unforeseen effect of advancing behavior that it designed to forestall ( McLaughlin and Muncie, 2001: 159 ) .

The basic guess of labelling theory, hence, is that when the negative property of aberrance is projected onto peculiar classs of persons by people keeping places of power, this ‘label’ tends to bring forth or magnify those attributed features. This selective and debatable nature of labelling is exemplified in the work of several labelling theoreticians which shall be looked at here. However, as can be seen the effects do non ever have to be negative.

The labelling attack can be traced back to the work of Frank Tannenbaum who argued that aberrance was created through the procedure of societal interaction. He argued that person who became known as pervert is treated as such, even though there may be others who behave in the same manner but have non been identified. The infliction of such a label produced the consequence of doing them go aberrant. Tannenbaum ( 1938 ) wrote:

The procedure of doing the felon is a procedure of tagging, specifying, placing, segregating, depicting, stressing, doing witting and self-aware ; it becomes a manner of stimulating, proposing, stressing and arousing the really traits that are complained of ( 1938:19-20 ) [ 1 ] .

In the late 18th century it could be said that the cardinal dogma of labelling theory existed in the work of Jeremy Bentham who commented that penal establishments have the power to advance offending, instead than restrict it. It can besides be seen in the considerations of Henry Mayhew in the mid 19th century, who recognised that over avid policing was a factor in the creative activity of juvenile delinquency [ 2 ] . Theorists repeatedly make claims that the condemnable justness system develops aberrant behavior, instead than restricting it. The fact that many institutionalized felons continue and increase their condemnable behavior on release exemplifies this position.

The labelling attack was subsequently refined by Edwin Lemert who explained that it was social reaction which caused divergence. Notably, Lemert distinguished between primary and secondary divergence. Lemert’s primary divergence consists of aberrant Acts of the Apostless before they have been publically labelled which he referred to as self-generated, sporadic or minor regulation misdemeanors which may stem from many different beginnings ( Lanier and Henry, 2004: 194 ) . Lemert argued that these Acts of the Apostless of primary divergence had ‘only fringy deductions for the position and the psychic construction of the individual concerned’ ( Haralambos and Holborn 1995: 408 ) . Lamert put forward that it was the social reaction and ensuing stigma that would take to a response from the pervert. He termed this procedure secondary divergence ; it was the designation of aberrance and the reaction of this that caused the aberrance. Lemert claimed ‘in consequence the original “causes” of the divergence recede and give manner to the cardinal importance of the disapproving, degradational, and insulating reactions of society’ ( From Haralambos and Holborn, 1995: 408 ) . Lemert’s theory is a authoritative illustration of how labelling theoreticians illustrated the debatable and selective procedure of labelling.

Howard Becker is considered by many as the establishing male parent of labelling theory. Becker ( 1963 ) claimed that aberrance is non built-in in any action, but is created when regulations and countenances are applied to behaviour considered to be ‘offending’ . Behaviour merely becomes aberrant when it is labelled as such by those who have the power to determine what is thought to be aberrant. Becker coined the term ‘moral entrepreneur’ to depict these agents. Becker ( 1963: 9 ) in his work ‘Outsiders’ explains that aberrance is non a quality of a aberrant act, but instead a effect of the applications of regulations and countenances of others, ‘The pervert is one to whom that label has successfully been applied ; aberrant behaviour is behavior that people so label’ .

Becker stresses that the aberrant label can take to farther aberrance. The label of pervert is the dominant label ; it becomes their ‘master status’ , which is the label which overcomes all other labels that may characterize the person. This serves to alter the deviant’s construct of ego so that they come to see themselves as pervert:

Treating a individual as though they were by and large instead than the specifically aberrant produces a self-fulfilling prognostication. It sets in gesture several mechanisms which conspire to determine the individual in the image they have of them ( Becker, 1963: 34 ) .

Becker used juvenile delinquents and marihuana tobacco users to demo an illustration of how labelling theory worked. Jock Young besides applied Becker’s attack in his survey of marihuana users. He concluded that due to the constabulary sections position of hippy marihuana users as idle, immature and foraging amongst other negative traits can ‘fundamentally change and transform the universe of the marihuana smoker’ until aberrant norms and values develop. Young argues that because of increased constabulary activity, ‘drug pickings in itself becomes of greater value to the group as a symbol of their difference’ [ 3 ]

Goffman, in his work ‘Stigma’ ( 1963 ) [ 4 ] distinguishes between different types of stigma which are based on different features and individualities. He established that certain individualities were negatively constructed into ‘spoiled identities’ . Examples of ‘spoiled identities’ may be those affected by disablement, or mental unwellness. Through interaction, persons classify others into classs, some which may go stigmatised 1s. In ‘Asylums’ ( 1961 ) [ 5 ] Goffman found that the stigma procedure reduces the ability of those stigmatised to return to a mainstream or non condemnable life.

More late John Braithwaite ( 1989 ) explored the construct of dishonoring and the consequence this has on an wrongdoer. His thoughts are consistent with labelling theory in that the dishonoring procedure creates the job. He described how there are two types of shaming: reintegrative, which encourages the wrongdoer back into society ; and, disintegrative, which shuns the offender off from society. The procedure of dishonoring farther entrenches the wrongdoer into criminalism. Braithwaite used the illustration of communitarian societies such as that in Japan to exemplify how the dishonoring procedure can work. In these societies where reintegrative shaming was dominant, the society had a low rate of offense. Conversely, those communities who used disintegrative shaming were characterised by their high offense rates. [ 6 ] This theory exemplifies how labelling does non needfully have a negative consequence, instead it is the other social reactions that have greater influence which can in bend either have a negative or positive consequence on the delinquent.

Shoemaker ( 1996 ) [ 7 ] commented that a major characteristic of the research into labelling theory shows a comparative deficiency of support for the impression that being labelled produces a negative ego image. Gove in his rating of labelling theory puts frontward:

On the footing of the present evidence…only the weakest deductions of the position can be sustained, and even they lack steadfast support ( 1975: 175 ) .

Labeling theory can be criticised on many histories. For illustration, it relies excessively to a great extent on secondary divergence without giving adequate consideration as to the causes of primary divergence. In this manner it fails to explicate how some persons are relentless wrongdoers without of all time holding been identified as such, or why the original behavior occurs in the first topographic point. It besides fails to develop thoughts as to the construction of the society that is enforcing the regulations. For illustration, it fails to recognize structural inequalities such as category, race and gender that exist in society and how these constructions have an impact. It besides tends to avoid the inquiry as to why some perverts are labelled as such and others are non.

A major unfavorable judgment is that the theory assumes that one time the label is applied, the aberrance of the single becomes worse and is irrevokable. However, this is to withstand that aberrant behavior can discontinue or that the pervert can alter their attitude. This attack therefore is excessively deterministic ; in mundane life grounds of the altering behavior of perverts is apparent. This is apparent non merely in the condemnable universe, where piquing behavior can alter for a assortment of grounds which must move as more powerful than the aberrant label, but besides in other kingdoms of societal life. For illustration, pupils that are classified in lower academic groups are able to get the better of their label to accomplish higher classs than expected. Besides, for illustration, those labelled as alkies are able to give up imbibing alcohol despite this label. Plummer ( 1982 ) [ 8 ] notes that Goffman’s mental patients provide an first-class illustration of labeled perverts who can get the better of the labels that are put onto them.

Labeling theory could besides be criticised for concentrating on the label of pervert. For illustration, non adequate consideration is given to the effects that a ‘saintly’ label may hold on an person.

Labeling theory does supply a utile theory to use to other kingdoms of societal life. For illustration, in instruction labelling theory would propose that puting kids with particular educational demands ( SEN ) with other kids with the same demands will take to more stigmatization and could therefore curtail the ability of these kids to get the better of these demands. It is this theory that supports the integrating of kids with SEN into mainstream schools. Besides the theory could be applied to hooky players ; the label of hooky player may go a self fulfilling prognostication taking to more hooky. However, Tracy and Marsh ( 2000 ) tested labelling theory on kids with mild rational disablements and found that they achieved better when placed in specialized categories.

The theory that labels will hold a stigmatising consequence on persons is taken into history when sing the usage of footings that are deemed to be politically right. For illustration, utilizing footings such as ‘a individual with disabilities’ is hoped to hold a less stigmatising and hence less negative consequence on the person than the term ‘a disabled person’ . It has the consequence of non holding the individual as lone ‘disabled’ and instead insinuates that the person is a individual foremost. This can hold a positive consequence on both the designation of the person by others and their ain ego individuality if the theory of labelling is applied.

As can be seen from this paper the selective and debatable nature of labelling theory need non hold a negative consequence on those labelled. Many labelling theoreticians themselves give illustrations of both the negative and positive consequence labelling can hold. As illustrated, the result of the procedure of labelling can either develop the aberrant character of the person, or promote reintegration into the norm of society. In add-on, this paper shows that labelling theory can be applied to other kingdoms of societal life beside offense. Despite the deficits in labelling theory, it has been utile in understanding the possible procedures that lead to deviant and other signifiers of behavior, and has been good to the acknowledgment of society’s function in the features of the person. Labeling theory has contributed to the apprehension and controlling of offense, and shall go on to be of influence in the hereafter.


Becker, H. S. ( 1963 ) ‘Outsiders: Surveies in the Sociology of Deviance’ , New York ; London: The Free Press.

Braithwaite, J. ( 1989 ) ‘Crime, Shame and Reintegration’ , Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gove, W. R. ( ed. ) ( 1975 ) ‘The Labelling of Deviance: Measuring a Perspective’ , London: Sage Publications.

Haralambos, M. and Holborn, M. ( 1995 ) ‘Sociology: Subjects and Perspectives’ , 4Thursdayedition, London: Collins Educational.

Lanier, M. M. and Henry, S. ( 2004 ) , ‘Essential Criminology’ , 2neodymiumEdition, London: Westview Press.

McLaughlin, M. and Muncie, J. ( explosive detection systems. ) ( 2001 ) ‘The Sage Dictionary of Criminology’ , London: Sage Publications.

Tracey and Marsh, H. W. ( 2000 ) taken from

hypertext transfer protocol: //self.uws.edu.au/Research % 20Focus/big_fish_little_pond_effect.htm

Accessed on 09/08/2005


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