1407405 (5CJ002) Theories of Crime
A critical summary of ‘Outsiders’ by Howard S. Becker
This essay will be a critical summary of an article written by Howard S. Becker and will be identifying the theory that’s been used. It will also be identifying the importance of the theory used in today’s society and finally any criticisms of the theory used in the reading.
The theory that’s been identified the reading is the labeling theory, which was also known as social reaction theory.
The labelling theory suggests that it is society who creates defines and criminals unlike other theories such as positivism that suggest that it’s the biological construct of somebody that makes them a criminal. Tim Newburn says that “Focus is therefore more upon social reaction to deviance”. (Newburn 2007, p. 210). Deviance is the description of an act or behavior that violates social norms, for example committing a crime. Those who are labelled as “deviant” are often cast off from society, the labelling theory was heavily influenced by the Chicago School theory.
A question that the labelling theory likes to ask is “Is there any act that is always criminal or does it just only depend on the period of time and the social audience?” For example during specific periods of time crimes that were once considered as criminal are now not like homosexuality, abortion and suicide. This also applies vice versa, for example taking heroin and smoking in public places was not considered criminal acts but now are.
Something else that should be considered is the fact that laws are socially constructed, so what may be illegal in some parts of the world may be legal in others. For example here in the UK we have very strict gun laws as opposed to the USA where it is perfectly legal to own a gun with a license. Again the use of Marijuana is legal in some states in the USA but prohibited in the UK. However with this being said there are some crimes that will always be illegal no matter where you are, for example; murder and rape. Although different countries may take different approaches to the punishments of these crimes they are still illegal and inherently criminal.
The social reaction towards deviance is very important because this how and why people are labeled as deviant.
One of the key thinkers of this theory was Frank Tannenbaum. Tannenbaum had his own interpretation of the labelling theory and this was called the “the dramatization of evil”. He believed that identifying, labelling and treatment of a deviant person was greatly emphasized thus causing it to become a larger part of their life and as a result they start to become what they have been labelled. Tannenbaum says that “the process of making the criminal is a process of tagging, defining, identifying, segregating, describing, emphasising, making conscious and self-conscious…the person becomes the thing he is described as being” (Tannenbaum 1938, p.20).
Another key advocate of this theory was Lemert, he introduced primary and...