Summarise labelling theory and then consider its effectiveness in considering youth crime and anti-social behaviour in contemporary British society
Labelling theory is the theory of how applying a label to an individual influences their lifestyle, and how the social reaction to this label influences the individual.
"...social groups create deviance by making rules whose infraction creates deviance, and by applying those roles to particular people and labelling them as outsiders. From this point of view, deviance is not a quality of the act the person commits, but rather a consequence of the application by other of rules and sanctions to an 'offender.' The deviant is one to whom that label has been successfully applied; deviant behaviour is behaviour that people so label." Becker (1963)
Becker theorised that the term 'deviant' is applied when an actor (individual) violates the mores and values created by society. The label deviant is usually applied by a figure of authority or high social status, and provokes a negative social reaction. The same reaction that can be associated to an act of law breaking. Society struggles to differentiate between 'crime' and 'deviance',The two words are sometimes used interchangeably. Crime is an act that breaks 'criminal law'; resulting in formal punishment, whereas deviance is simply an act that is perceived as 'wrong'.
The issue of social power cannot be divorced from a definition of deviance, some groups in society can criminalize the actions of another group by using their influence on legislators. A Marxist would say that the laws are decided by the state, which represents the ruling class. It could be said that the ruling class set the definition of devience in order to maintain power, cooerse and control the underclasses.
Becker describes labelling in stages
An act is labelled as deviant
actor is caught doing act
label is then applied
self concept internalised
social reaction enforces label – deviant treated as outcast
"To put a complex argument in a few words: instead of the deviant motives leading to the deviant behavior, it is the other way around, the deviant behavior in time produces the deviant motivation."
Becker was influenced heavily by the work of Edwin Lemert (1951), who summerised that deviance was created as a product of interaction between individuals and the reactions of society to them, this concept is known as Social action theory and was developed by Max Weber (1864-1920) and is also reffered to as symbolic interactionalism. Social action theory is the study of individuals and how their actions and interpretations influence society. Weber's theory is a micro approach and highlights the importance of family, economy and social status and how this influences the way we interperate actions of others. An Interpretivist perspective would suggest that there is no such thing as objective truth. This view is a consequence of their ontological and epistemological position....