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A Comparison Of Conflict And Labeling Theory In The Context Of Youth Gangs

1911 words - 8 pages

Many have attempted to explain gang involvement in today's society. However, there is an underlying activity of youth joining gangs that does not seem to have enough media coverage or thorough explanations. As the name suggests, youth gang membership is about the juvenile population creating and joining gangs. Research indicates that youth gang membership exists in contemporary north America (Bernburg et al. 2006; aLilly et al. 2011; Maclure and Sotelo 2004; Sims 1997; Wiley et al. 2013; Yoder et al. 2003). This paper will examine the factors associated with youth gang membership using Karl Marx's conflict theory and labeling theory in comparison. Although conflict theory helps explain why a troublesome economy and coming from a low-socioeconomic status contributes to gang involvement, the theory has its limitations. On the other hand, labeling theory is unable to fully explain youth gang involvement based on the aforementioned factors. That being said, it can give a better explanation based on the factor of government intervention in the lives of citizens such as the context of stop-and-frisk which lead to unwarranted searches.
As mentioned in lecture, labeling theory asks two critical questions: what is crime, and who is criminal? This is the central tenet of labeling theory because the focus is on what activities constitute criminal behaviour within the context. This means that over time, the general perspective changes in regards to what can be labeled 'crime.' For instance, society is known to react negatively towards prostitution in the past; whereas the contemporary reaction is primarily to legalize it.
That being said, labeling is more than a reaction to an activity. To elaborate, labeling is also about the government intervention in the daily lives of citizens (Bernburg et al. 2006; aLilly et al. 2011; Wiley et al. 2013). This includes the practice of stop-and-frisk that is performed by police officers on potential suspects, or anyone for that matter because they can do it unwarranted. Moreover, the result can be innocent youth being interrogated by this means of intervention. Consequently, youth may internalize this label of a potential criminal which raises a key issue of labeling theory that explains future criminality and gang membership. As mentioned in the lecture, labels can be positive that result in a higher self-esteem. In this case, a stop-and-frisk on an innocent youth is a negative label that can not only lower the person's self-esteem, but result in a forced self-realization that they are a deviant. Therefore, government intervention can explain why youth join gangs in the context of labeling theory.
Bernburg et al. (2006) implement how labeling theory not only applies to an individual youth; but also to the youth's social network. Again, this can be visualized by the scenario of government intervention. Essentially, when government intervention of a juvenile individual creates a negative label, the youth's social...

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