Labelling and Social Reaction
Labelling and Social Reaction
Origins of labelling theory
Charles Cooley (1864-1929)
Human nature and the social order
'Looking glass self'
How a person reacts to others based upon how they imaging they appear to others
George Herbert Mead (1863-1931)
Work on symbolic interactionism
The self should be viewed as a process, not as a structure
Fundamental is the concept of 'self image' - a social construct which describes the meaning that people give to themselves
Frank Tannenbaum (1893-1969)
Evil is not a real thing but something which is 'dramatised'
Evil is dramatised from an early age, but these first experiences have profound effects
By identifying any individual as 'bad' and needing special treatment the problem is worsened
A person becomes the thing they are described as being (self-fulfilling prophecy)
Edwin Lemert (1912-1996)
Deviance is a product of the interaction between individuals and the reactions of society to them
Primary deviance occurs when an actor engages in norm-violating behaviour
The individual does not view himself/herself as engaging in a deviant role
Secondary deviance occurs when a person begins to act within the role of the deviant label
Social control leads to deviance, rather than the reverse
Howard Becker (1928-)
Outsiders: Studies in the sociology deviance
Deviance is the quality of the reaction of members of society to the offender, not towards the behaviour itself
'Moral entrepreneur' - an individual who leads campaigns to outlaw certain behaviours by making them 'criminal'
Interactionist theory - Labelling
Deviant careers and SFP
- the labelling process and societal rection can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy and a deviant career
- The labelling process
Secondary deviance begins from the attachment of the label, and societal reaction to the deviant
- Master Status
The attachment of a label can have major consequences for the individual
'A master status us one which displaces all other features of a persons social standing, and a person is judged solely in terms of that one defining characteristic.
The Label can become a master status - a status that overrides all other characteristics
Deviance that follows once a person has been publicly labelled as deviant
You're not a 'criminal' until someone knows about it
Deviance that has not been publicly labelled as such
Selective law enforcement
Studies two cities in the US, juvenile crime higher in working-class areas as the same behaviour is viewed differently by the police, and are more like to surveillance areas where there are high concentrations of these groups.
Their subjective perceptions and stereotypes can affect whether criminal labels are attached, and how these lead to the social construction of crime statistics
Used a phenomenological approach to understand how law enforces make sense of and interpret what they see.
- police operate with pre-existing conceptions and stereotypical categories (typifications) of what constitutes a deviant
The interaction between deviants and those who define them as deviant
The process whereby rules are selectively enforced
The consequences of being labelled 'deviant'
The circumstances in which a person becomes set apart and defined as deviant
An analysis of who has the power to attach deviant labels and make them stick
Most people involve themselves in deviant activities, therefore its hard to distinguish deviants from non-deviants
Crime statistics = socially constructed
Evaluation of labelling theory
Plummer (2011) - although few contemporary sociologist identify themselves as labelling theorists, the theory has been enormously influential and is embedded in a vast range of contemporary sociology, such as the theory of moral panics and the dramatisation of crime in the media.
It provides insights into the nature of deviance not provided by structural theories
It challenges the idea that deviants are different from 'normal' people
It shows the importance of the reactions of others in defining and creating deviance
It reveals the importance of stereotyping in understanding deviance
It reveals the way official crime statistics are a product of bias in law-enforcement
It reveals the importance of those with power in defining acts and people as deviant
It highlights the role of moral entrepreneurs, like the media, in defining and creating deviance and generating moral panics
It shows how labelling can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy and to deviant careers
It shows how the deviant label can affect the self-concept of the deviant
It doesn't explain why there are different reactions to deviance, nor where stereotypes come from in the first place
It's too deterministic
Labelling doesn't always lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy: the attachment of a deviant label and the stigma attached by societal reaction may reduce deviance rather than increase it
It doesn't allow that some people chose deviance and the attachment of a deviant label or of a deviant identity, like those who, in the past, adopted gay identity; it is not simply or always imposed on them by a societal reaction.
It doesn't explain the causes of deviant behaviour which precede the labelling process (primary deviance), nor the different kinds of acts that people commit - for example, taking drugs is a different act from murder
It assumes an act isn't deviant until labelled as such, yet many know perfectly well that what they are doing is deviant
It tends to remove the blame for deviance away from the deviant and onto those who define him or her as deviant: the deviant becomes a victim a too.
It ignores the importance of wider structural factors in creating deviance, and assumes it's all down to societal reaction
It has little to say about the victims of crime
It has no real policy solutions to crime, beyond making fewer rules and not 'naming and shaming' offenders.
It doesn't explain why some individuals are labelled rather than others and why ome activities are illegal and others are not.
It points too the issue of power in the labelling process, but not, as the Marxists have done, at the structures of power in society which create the wider framework for the labelling process