Labeling Theory Of Deviance Essay

2539 words - 11 pages

The Labeling Theory-also referred to as Social Reaction Theory- asserts that crime is a label attached to wrongdoing, and often the label becomes a stigma that increases criminality. The Labeling Theory became most dominant between the early 1960s and the late 1970s. The labeling theory says that deviant individuals are deviant mainly because they are seen deviant by society; individuals who are labeled as deviant may be likely to reject themselves and act deviantly because of the label. Labeled individuals could include prostitutes, former criminals, nerds, alcoholics, etc. The labeling process can be simplified into six steps: initial criminal act, detection by the justice system, ...view middle of the document...

Primary deviance refers to the first act of deviance and secondary deviance focuses on the individual experiences after being caught and labeled as a deviant. He states that once an individual is labeled as deviant he or she may find it hard to erase and start a new slate as something other than deviant. This theory became the object of much criticism.
Frank Tannenbaum illustrated his views on labeling in his book Crime and Community where he stated that when deviant initially commits a crime they are still normal by the standards of society. After society has labeled the individual they identify with the label they are given and begin to commit the acts and fall into the stigma that is associated with the label. Tannenbaum suggested that the only way to move from this is the refusal to dramatize the evil. The focus of this theory is shifted from the need to criticize what is inside the individual to the role that society and the environment plays in creating deviant behavior within an individual. With Tannenbaum’s theory came a lot of criticism from other scholars, such as Travis Hirschi, who contends that the Tannenbaum’s theory lacked support and ignores the differences between delinquents and non-delinquents.
Howard Becker established the labeling theory and he inferred that deviance is created by society and that deviance is not a quality of the person, but a consequence of others applying rules to an offender. He also proposed that criminal behavior changes throughout time. He includes that personal motives and societies influence does not have anything to do with criminal behavior. Becker believed the social groups created deviance by making the rules that defined deviance. He says “deviance is not a quality of the act the person commits, but rather a consequence of the application by others of rules and sanctions to an offender.” Meaning that the act that the individual committed-not necessarily the offender- was deviant, and the consequences they have after committing the crime identify them as a deviant. Like Tannenbaum, he also believes that once an individual has a deviant label associated with him or her, it is attached to them and is constant.
Like Tannenbaum and Becker, I believe that once an individual is deemed deviant or labeled, they feel as though they have no choice but to play the role. I have seen this in many instances in school atmospheres from observing my peers, and tutoring 3rd graders. From a young age children are taught to act a certain way and if they go against that or have an assertive personality in a class setting the teacher is more likely to deem them as a troublemaker- and in some cases they very well may be, but children carry the labels they are given throughout the years and are more likely to act in a way that fits the label. For example, a student with a home situation that was not healthy from them may act out in class to make up for lack of attention, in turn the teachers and students may...

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