Labeling Theory Essay Sample

Aberrance. like beauty. is in the eyes of the perceiver. There is nil inherently aberrant in any human act. something is aberrant merely because some people have been successful in labelling it so. J. L Simmons The definition of the state of affairs implies that if you define a state of affairs as existent. it is existent merely in its effects.


Labeling theory. stemming from the influences of Cooley. Mead. Tannenbaum. and Lemert. has its beginnings someplace within the context of the 20th century. However. Edwin Lemert is widely considered the manufacturer and laminitis of the original version of labelling theory. This paper. non a drumhead. provides a brief history of labelling theory. every bit good as. its function in the sociology of aberrance. It attempts to research the parts made by labelling theoreticians. the unfavorable judgment towards labelling theoreticians. and the treatment environing its world as an existent theory. In kernel. the chief focal point of this paper besides turn outing an apprehension of Howard Becker. is to depict and measure `labelling theory` to the survey of offense and aberrance. by manner of an in depth treatment.


The theoretical survey of social reaction to aberrance has been carried out under different names. such as. labelling theory. interactionist position. and the societal constructionist position. In the sociology of aberrance. the labelling theory of aberrant behavior is frequently used interchangeably with the social reaction theory of deviancy. As a affair of fact. both phrases point every bit to the fact that sociological accounts of aberrance map as a merchandise of societal control instead than a merchandise of psychological science or familial heritage. Some sociologists would explicate aberrance by accepting without inquiry definitions of aberrance and refering themselves with primary aetiology. However. labelling theoreticians stress the point of seeing aberrance from the point of view of the aberrant person.

They claim that when a individual becomes known as a pervert. and is ascribed aberrant behavior forms. it is every bit much. if non more. to make with the manner they have been stigmatized. so the pervert act they are said to hold committed. In add-on. Howard S. Becker ( 1963 ) . one of the earlier interaction theoreticians. claimed that. societal groups create aberrance by doing the regulations whose misdemeanor constitute aberrance. and by using those regulations to peculiar people and labelling them as foreigners. Furthermore. the labelling theoretical attack to deviance dressed ores on the societal reaction to deviance committed by persons. every bit good as. the interaction processes taking up to the labelling. Influences

Labeling theory was significantly influenced by the Chicago School and Symbolic Interactionism. The sociology section in the University of Chicago is where early labelling theoreticians received their alumnus preparation. These theoreticians were trained in footings of symbolic interaction and specific methods of participatory field research. The symbolic interaction theory exposed early theoreticians to the survey of societal interaction. every bit good as. the reading of society from the actor’s point of position. Everett Hughes and Alvin Gouldner were two of the earliest theoreticians to develop at the Chicago School. However. the foundations of this position of aberrance were said to hold been foremost established by Edwin Lemert ( 1951 ) and were later developed by Howard S. Becker ( 1963 ) . As a affair of fact. labelling theory has later become a dominant paradigm in the account of aberrance. Furthermore. the symbolic interaction position was highly active in the early foundations of labelling theory. Labeling theory is constituted basically by two propositions.

The first is that aberrant behavior is to be seen non merely as the misdemeanor of a norm. but as any behavior which is successfully defined or labelled as pervert. The aberrance does non inhere in the act itself but in the response of others to that act. In other words. the aberrance is said to be in the oculus of the perceiver. The 2nd proposition claims that labelling green goodss or amplifies aberrance. The deviant’s response to social reaction leads to secondary divergence by which the pervert comes to accept a self-image or self-definition as person who is for good locked within a aberrant function. Furthermore. the peculiarity of the attack is that it draws attending to deviance as the result of societal imputations and the exercising of societal control. Labeling theory is really complex. doing it rather different than other theories.

Alternatively of looking at why some societal groups commit more offense. labelling theory asks why some people perpetrating some action come to be defined as pervert. while others do non. Labeling theory is besides interested in the consequence of labelling persons. As good. labelling theoreticians note that most people commit offenses at some clip in their lives but non everyone becomes defined as pervert or felon. How does this procedure of specifying a individual as aberrant work? Look at a state of affairs where a police officer holds stereotypes about typical felons. They use these stereotypes to construe the behavior of suspected perverts. In other words. the closer a individual comes to the stereotype held by the constabulary. the more likely they are to be arrested. charged. and convicted of the offense. Furthermore. one time person has been successfully labelled or stigmatized as condemnable or aberrant. the label attached may go the dominant label.

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Maestro STATUS

In labelling theory. the dominant label is most frequently referred to as the maestro position. The maestro position is the affiliated label that is usually seen as a feature of more importance than all other facets of the individual. For illustration. he or she becomes a bully or stealer instead than a male parent. female parent or friend. Each label carries with it something. For some people one time a pervert label has been applied. in footings of a aberrant self-concept. they accept themselves as a pervert. nevertheless. this can merely do room for farther aberrant Acts of the Apostless to be made. This happens when people start moving in the manner they have been labelled. For illustration. a adult male caught in an stray act of stealing may be convicted. sent to prison. labelled as a felon. and subsequently as an ex-con. Friends will most probably non desire to tie in with him and employers will non use him due to his condemnable record.

In other words. the adult male is stigmatized as a general pervert and as a effect. he is excluded from all conventional associations and contacts. As good. this type of state of affairs makes it really hard for the adult male to keep the individuality of a non-deviant individual. As a consequence. the adult male may get down to see himself chiefly as a condemnable. particularly as he now knows many other alleged ex-cons from his clip in prison. Since everyone treats him as a condemnable anyway and he can’t acquire a occupation. he may so turn to offense as a manner of life. possibly with the assistance of the aberrant subculture in which he likely made connexions with. Furthermore. if this happens. although he may non hold had any other pick. however. he has now embarked on a aberrant calling.


The construct of a aberrant calling refers to a sequence of phases through which the rule-breaker may germinate into a fully fledged pervert or foreigner ( Becker. 1963 ) . Harmonizing to Becker. after the person has been labelled as pervert. they progress down the way of a aberrant calling and it becomes difficult to agitate off the pervert label as others see it as a maestro position of the person. He points out that when analyzing aberrant people one should non take their aberrance for granted. as one can non presume that these people have really committed a aberrant act or interrupt some regulation. because the procedure of labelling theory may non be infallible. In other words. to be labelled pervert does non needfully intend that the person is. or has been deviant in the yesteryear. In add-on. Kai T. Erikson ( 1966 ) besides highlights the manner societal reaction affects the aberrant person.

He reinforces what Becker had antecedently suggested stating that aberrance is non a belongings inherent in certain signifiers of behavior. it is a belongings conferred upon these signifiers by the audiences which straight or indirectly witness them ( Erikson. 1966 ) . He suggests that aberrance is necessary to society’s stableness. instead than being responsible for its dislocation. as the aberrant single serves as a marker of the difference between good and evil. right and incorrect. and as Erikson writes. in making so. he shows us the difference between the interior of the group and the exterior. He goes on to convey forward the inquiry of whether or non the labelling of aberrant persons is necessary in keeping society together. Equally good. is it just to state that in order to perpetuate this. societies are organised in such a manner as to advance this resource. In other words. is it possible that the process of making aberrant persons. although unjust. must go on. as whipping boies are necessary for the moral safety of the remainder of society?


Aaron V. Cicourel ( 1968 ) . explains the intervention of delinquents in two similar Californian metropoliss by utilizing labelling theory. He claims that a difference in juvenile justness can be accounted for by different policies of the constabulary. and by the ability of in-between category parents to negociate justness. He concludes by saying that some persons are more likely than others to be labelled as pervert. due to their position in life. This theory was reinforced by E. M. Schur ( 1971 ) . who discusses the drug dependence of many physicians. or the likeliness of bank Tellers to embezzle financess. Schur suggests that in both instances the histrion has legitimate entree to drugs or money. which gives them some protection against being discovered. as opposed to the instance of an addict purchasing drugs on the street. or an armed robber keeping up the bank.

He suggests that opposition to negative labelling is built into ‘opportunity’ ( 1971 ) . Schur claims that chance constructions may find initial divergence. but social reactions to such divergence will significantly find future chances. However. labelling theoreticians have had their work criticised on many degrees. and these unfavorable judgments must be examined before any rating of the part of the labelling theoreticians to the sociology of aberrance can be made.


Becker examines some of the unfavorable judgments and feels that labelling theory was created as a manner of looking at a general country of human activity ( 1963 ) . However. it is non a theory. with all the accomplishments and duties that go with the rubric. nor is it focussed entirely on the act of labelling as some have thought. Furthermore. Becker does advert some of the unfavorable judgments given to labelling theory. For illustration. he states how interactionist theories have been accused of giving assistance and comfort to the enemy. be the enemy those who would upset the stableness of the bing order of the Establishment. In kernel. we have already mentioned the suggestion of Erikson that aberrance is a necessary portion of society. demoing the difference between right and incorrect. and promoting the bulk of society to toe the line at the disbursal of the aberrant minority. A farther unfavorable judgment mentioned by Becker is that given by many conservative critics ( although other non-conservative critics have besides noted this ) that is. that interactionist theories of aberrance openly or covertly attack conventional morality.

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Becker acknowledges this. proposing that deliberately or otherwise. they are caustic of conventional manners of idea and established establishments. Becker ( 1967 ) goes every bit far as to state that the labelling theoretician must side with the deviator. as it is up to the sociologists to rectify unjust state of affairss. However. non all theoreticians would see the work of Becker and the other labelling theoreticians as rather so extremist. As a affair of fact. many sociologists view labelling theory as an untestable and untrue theory. Furthermore. Becker ( 1963 ) acknowledges that his labelling theory is a theoretical attack. non a true theory. Equally good. Becker suggests that sociologists should try set uping empirical trials for his attack. The conservative nature of labelling theory was besides criticized. specifically by E. M. Schur. He suggested that although the sociology of the underdog is indispensable in the relief of the unneeded agony of the aberrant person. the labelling theoreticians are guilty of romanticising certain non-political divergences and avoiding a genuinely extremist review of the societal system as a whole ( 1971 ) . However. one of the major unfavorable judgments of labelling theory is that it is deterministic.

As a affair of fact. it specifically treats the persons as if they were no more than inactive beings. herded into behavior by the act of the labels being given to it. As good. farther unfavorable judgment is given due to the fact that. following behavior forms is the mere consequence of the behavior forms being ascribed to it. For case. Herbert Blumer ( 1969 ) suggests that the human being is seen as an active being in his ain right. confronting. covering with. and moving toward the object he indicates. On the other manus. Alexander Liazos ( 1972 ) provides for three unfavorable judgments based on the work of labelling theoreticians. First of all. he notes that although a labelling theoreticians aim is to humanize the aberrant person and show that he or she is no different than other persons. except possibly in footings of chance. However. by the really accent on the pervert and his individuality jobs and subculture. the opposite consequence may hold been achieved ( Liazos. 1972 ) . Second. he suggests that while sing the more usual. mundane types of aberrance. such as homosexualism. harlotry. and juvenile delinquency. the labelling theoreticians have wholly ignored a more unsafe and malevolent type of aberrance. what Liazos himself footings covert institutional force.

He suggests that this type of force leads to such things as poorness and development. the war in Vietnam. unfair revenue enhancement Torahs. racism. sexism. and so on… ( 1972 ) . However. it is questionable whether labelling theoreticians should even try to discourse signifiers of aberrance such as this in the same manner as more platitude single offenses. or whether the two should be kept wholly separate. being so different in capable affair. Liazos besides criticises the labelling theoreticians as they do non see the extent of the importance of power in their substantial analysis. although all emphasis its importance. He says that the truly powerful. the upper categories and the power elite. those that could be referred to as the top Canis familiariss. are non considered in any great item by the labelling theoreticians. A farther unfavorable judgment of the labelling theory is that of Jack Gibb ( 1966 ) . He inquiries the success of the labelling theoreticians in footings of how they interpret the shaping of behavior as pervert. every bit good as. how much survey is really done in this country. In add-on. Becker ( 1963 ) goes out of his manner to explicate the implicit in jobs of labelling theory. First of all. he suggests that there are non adequate surveies of aberrant behavior.

He farther implies that there are non adequate surveies of adequate sorts of aberrant behavior. Finally. he insists that another lack of the labelling theory is that they don’t have adequate surveies in which the individuals making the research achieve close contact with those that they study. in order for them to go cognizant of the complex and multiplex character of the aberrant activity. Becker ( 1963 ) besides speaks of the trouble with secretiveness. As a affair of fact. in many instances the aberrant single performs aberrant Acts of the Apostless in secretiveness and does non wish this behavior to be known universally. For illustration. in the consequences found by Humphreys in his survey of the `Tearoom Trade` . many of the persons partaking in homosexual behavior were married with kids. When asked later in questionnaires about their positions on homosexualism. really few admitted to sing the teashops.

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In many instances of aberrance. secretiveness will make jobs when researching. As a affair of fact. it is highly hard for a research worker to detect the aberrant persons in their mundane lives. particularly in unsafe countries of society in which there may be jobs of infiltration. deriving trust and violent people. It may besides be hard for the research worker to detect impartially. or to go on without being led to either commit the offenses themselves. or to seek to forestall the offenses from being committed. An illustration of this can be seen in Parker’s View from the Boys ( 1974 ) . where he studied male childs in an country of Liverpool. Parker was able to derive credence merely because he had antecedently met some of the male childs at a state vacation centre for Liverpool’s deprived kids. Harmonizing to Parker ( 1974 ) . If I had non been immature. hairy. boozy. willing to maintain long hours and accept permissive criterions. the affair would ne’er hold worked. However. Parker admits that his presence affected the behavior of the male childs.

For illustration. on occasions he stopped them from perpetrating offenses and helped them out when they were caught. Another facet of labelling theory in which Becker outlines as debatable. is the construct of morality. He inquiries a state of affairs where the researcher’s understandings should lie. He contemplates on whether one should side with the underdog or merely judge condemnable behavior as inherently incorrect? He stresses the sociological trouble of this determination. He claims that the research worker. whether taking either side. will be accused of taking a nonreversible and deformed position. but how is it possible to see the state of affairs from both sides at the same time ( Becker. 1963 ) ? Despite many parts. the rating of labelling theoreticians is usually considered with an inordinate sum of unfavorable judgment. Contribution

In trying to measure the part of the labelling theoreticians to the survey of the sociology of aberrance. it depends on how the theory is viewed. If labelling theory is really considered to be a theory. its defects are many. However. if we attempt to see the theory as a mere manner of looking at aberrance ( as it was intended harmonizing to Becker ) . the parts are many. as they opened up a whole new survey of the person after he or she has committed an act of aberrance. It is besides of import to cognize that. labelling theoreticians do non simply see the after-effects of the aberrant act. as it is sometimes suggested. For illustration. in one of Becker’s surveies. he considers the person and how he began to smoke marihuana. Furthermore. labelling theory along with the labelling theoreticians. will go on in their usefulness every bit long as aberrant behavior exists. Decision

In decision. labelling theory has now spread outside the confines of the sociology of aberrance. For illustration. the imputation of the label `insane` to a individual may stand for an of import phase in the procedure of going mentally ill. Labelling theory has besides been used to explicate witchery. Nevertheless. the theory in its entireness has provided a good development of the sociological apprehension of self-conceptions. relationships between aberrance. societal reaction and societal control. Furthermore. after thorough analysis it is apparent that labelling theory has proven to be really important in set uping a comparative organic structure of empirical research grounds on the survey of offense and aberrance.

Bibliography Mentions

Becker. H. S. ( 1963 ) . Foreigners: Surveies in the Sociology of Deviance. New York. New york: The Free Press Becker. H. S. ( 1964 ) .

The Other Side: Positions on Deviance. New York. New york: The Free Press Becker. H. S. ( 1967 ) . Whose Side Are We On? . Social Problems. 14:239-247

Blumer. H. ( 1966 ) . Symbolic Interactionism. Prentice Hall. Englewood Cliffs. NJ.

Blumer. H. ( 1969 ) . Sociological Deductions of the Thoughts of George Herbert Mead. Englewood Cliff. New Jersey.

Cicourel. V. A. ( 1968 ) . The Social Organization of Juvenile Justice. New York. New york: The Free Press

Erikson. K. T. ( 1966 ) . Wayward Puritans. Wiley. NY. Gibb. J. ( 1966 ) . Concepts of Deviant Behaviour: The Old and the New.

Elsevier. New York. Heckert. D. ( 1997 ) . Ugly Duckling to Swan: Labeling Theory and the Stigmatization of Red Hair. Symbolic Interaction. 20 ( 4 ) :365-385

Liazos. A. ( 1972 ) . The Poverty of the Sociology of Deviance: Nuts. Sluts and Perverts. Mead. H. G. ( 1962 ) . Mind. Self. and Society: From the Standpoint of a Social Behaviourist. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Pfol. S. J. ( 1994 ) . Images of Deviance and Social Control: A Sociological History. . 2nd erectile dysfunction. New York. New york: McGraw-Hill.

Ritzer. G. ( 2000 ) . Sociological Theory. 5th erectile dysfunction. McGraw-Hill

Schur. E. M. ( 1971 ) . Labeling Aberrant Behaviour: Its Sociological Deductions. New York. New york: McGraw-Hill Simmons. J. L ( 1969 ) . Perverts. Berkeley. California