Crime and deviance labelling essay

Crime and deviance labelling essay

Assess The Usefulness Of Labelling Theory In Explaining Crime And Deviance

Focusing on interactionist approaches such as Becker (1963); labelling theory suggests that deviancy is a social process usually related to power differences but it doesn’t explain the causes of crime. It does however explain why some people or actions are described as deviant, and can help in understanding crime and deviance. Becker argues deviance is a behaviour which has been labelled deviant by the reaction of others.

This suggests that there is really no such thing as a deviant act. An act only becomes deviant when others perceive it as such.

The application of a label to someone has significant consequences for how that person is treated by others and perceives him or herself. Studies such that by Jock and Young (1971); exemplify Becker’s claim that there is no such thing as deviant behaviour. Interpretivist sociologists (interactionist) argue that we form our self-identity by interpreting how others respond to us and internalising the reaction. A label can have positive and negative effects on an individual and it helps define them in the ‘eyes’ of others. Becker calls this the ‘self-concept’.

Interactionist theory suggests that being labelled as deviant can actually increase deviant behaviour. For example if a person is in trouble with the police then they are more likely to resort to criminal activity or criminal behaviour. Jock Young (1971) used his study of drug users in Notting hill to demonstrate the process of becoming deviant. The studies showed 4 different stages. Firstly, the marijuana users developed a deviant self-concept because their drug of choice was illegal; then the deviant element became their main identity in society.

They were considers ‘hippies’ first and foremost ; then the negative response of those around them and the police made the drug taking a significant part of their live and then their drug taking increased. Labelling theory is clearly validates behaviour. Additionally, Lemert (1972) identifies primary and secondary deviance. Primary being when deviance is not publicly labelled as much; secondary is deviance that follows once a person has been publicly labelled as deviant.

Lemert drew a distinction between primary and secondary deviance through a study ofstuttering amongst a Native American nation. He observed that public oratory was important among the nation yet displayed high levels of stuttering. When young boys showed any speech defect parents reacted with such concern that the child became worried about it and more nervous causing him to stutter. Therefore the primary deviance of the speech defect was not that important, it was the effect of the worried parents, labelling the child, causing the nervousness, leading to the secondary deviance of stuttering.

Thus showing that societal reaction, promoted by a concern about particular forms of deviance can actually produce those forms of deviance. Contrastingly there are critiques of Lemert and Becker’s studies. Akers (1967) criticises both Becker and Lemert for presenting individuals as powerless it make decisions or take control of their own identity. Deviance, according to Akers, is not something which happens to an individual, but a choice an individual makes.

Goffman (1961) substantiates the idea of labelling theory via his study of a deviant career in mental illness. He stated that the negative label of being mad is imposed on the patient by society and psychiatry, and the patient must eventually conform to it. However, critics such as Taylor, Walton and Young (1973) argue many forms of behaviour are widely viewed as deviant — so deviants actually know that they are breaking the law or social rules before the societal reactions however they still continue to do it.

Marxist sociologists accuse Interpretivist of ignoring the role of power in defining crime and deviance. Marxists state that certain groups have the power to influence what is classified as criminal or socially acceptable. Furthermore, Gouldner (1973) accused interactions sociologists of being fascinated with deviance, and even suggests they enjoy observing ‘cool’ deviants, and hanging out with the ‘underworld’.

In evaluation, it is evident that there are contrasting views on labelling and social influence on deviance. It is also evident that interactionist sociologists focus on ‘the little things’ and take the ‘micro’ approach to issues such as crime and deviance. They focus on interactions between individuals. One can criticise that by also focusing on the ‘bigger picture’ it may be evident how the small interactions affect the larger scale infrastructure of society.

Essay on the Modern Labelling Theory of Crime (1411 Words)

Essay on the Modern Labelling Theory of Crime !

The labelling theory was propounded by Тannenbaum in 1938 who believed that tagging, defining, identifying, segregating and describing criminals by labelling them under different heads was helpful in treatment of offenders. Thereafter Lemert (1951) preferred to label offenders as persons with primary deviance and secondary deviance.

The former do not see themselves as deviant whereas the latter accept their deviant status. According to Lemert primary deviance arises out of biological, psychological and or sociological reasons while the secondary deviance is caused by social reaction to primary deviation. Therefore societal reaction has a direct bearing on these two deviant types.

Being a ‘criminal’ becomes a matter of status for these deviants and because of this self-image, there is a constant pressure on them to behave as a deviant.

The modern labelling theory, however, recognise that ‘societies’ create crime by enacting laws and therefore the substantive nature of law should be the object of study. Sometimes these are called criminalization theories and they have some resemblance to societal reaction to crime.

According to Ditton (1979), labelling theories which focus on State power to control crime are considered as branches of controlology. They treat criminal justice agencies as part of social control mechanisms, like education, mental health, mass media all of which are used by the State for crime control. The ultimate goal according to these theorists is to control troublesome population of criminals.

John Braithwaite modelled his reintegrative theory on social control which he called as shaming. There are two types of social control viz. reintegrative and disintegrative.

Reintegrative social control implies bringing the offender back into the fold of society while disintegrative social control focuses on shunning the offender from society for social good. Braithwaite argues that disintegrative shaming (social order) creates a class of outcasts who indulge into criminality as they find it difficult to return back to society as law-abiding citizens. They therefore become more entrenched in crime as a result of being branded as criminals.

The reintegrative shaming, however, can be accomplished if there is societal gesture of forgiveness and readiness to decertify the offenders as deviant. In modern civilised societies urbanisation, heterogeneity, mobility and excessive materialism have led to an increase in deviants back at the same time States are endeavouring to afford them opportunities to shun deviant role and come back to the social fold as normal citizens.

Howard Becker (1963) developed his theory of labelling (also known as social reaction theory) on the assumption that people are likely to engage in rule-breaking behaviour as essentially different from the members of rule-making or rule-abiding society. The law-breakers see themselves morally at odds with those who are law-abiding.

Becker labels these law’-breakers as “outsider” and holds that they accept the label attached to them and they begin to view themselves as different from “mainstream” of society. The deviants first indulge in primary deviance intentionally or unintentionally and gradually step into the arena of secondary deviance.

A deviant who is denied means to carry out daily routines, turns to illegitimate means to make a living. The affiliation of the labelled deviant with an organised group of criminals provides him moral support and he joins the organised crime thus learning new forms of deviance through differential associations.

Becker recognises four types of citizens according to their behaviour in society labelling them differently. The numbers of society that are rule-abiding and free of labels are described as conforming citizens, while those who are labelled without breaking a law are termed as falsely accused — Those citizens who exhibit law-breaking behaviour are labelled as pure deviants, while those that break law yet avoid labelling are called secret deviants.

It must be stated hat Becker’s theory of labeling though popular has encountered several criticisms. Many sociologists and criminologists view this theory as a purely theoretical approach to crime and criminals without any empirical basis. The distinction between primary and secondary deviance seems to be futile as it is influenced by changing variables.

The challenge to labelling theory on theoretical and empirical grounds seems to be justified. Some criminologists view labelling theory as declining in its importance due to lack of empirical support.

Some sociologists have called the labelling theory as “the shoe fits, wear it” theory. It suggests that society makes deviance by passing laws infringement of which constitutes deviance and the law-breakers are labelled as ‘deviants’. Deviance, according to this theory is not the act that a person commits, but rather a consequence of the application by others, of rules, laws and sanctions to the “offender”. A deviant is one to whom people so label.

As Calhoun rightly pointed out labelling theory is especially crucial to understanding juvenile delinquency because it is during the time of adolescence that juvenile’s self-identities are formed. Labelling theory also helps to explain the long-term consequences of a deviant label on a person’s social status.

Thus, if a juvenile is labelled as deviant or delinquent, then his self-identity may develop as such and he will be more prone to become a hardened criminal. Because of his/her negative self-concept he or she is likely to choose a crime carrier and associate with other professional or organised groups of criminals.

It may be stated that modern criminologists lay greater stress on multiple causation theory because they consider crime as a social phenomenon, the political society reacting through punishment, treatment or preventive measures as the sequence of interaction is the ultimate object of criminology.

They suggest that social control mechanism must be very selective in the legal norms for enforcement in their disposition of law violators. They advocate restructuring the existing social arrangements to eliminate crime from society.

The current theory of Indian criminal jurisprudence is based on seven fundamental notions, viz., the principle of legality, mens rea, conduct, consequence of mens rea and conduct, harm, causation and punishment. With the change in time, the criminal law has radically changed and the concept of criminal liability therefore, faces new problems.

Consequently, there is need for complete replacement of punishment by recent rehabilitative measures for certain categories of offenders so as to make the administration of criminal justice efficacious and meaningful.

It must, however, be realised that mere treatment of offenders in correctional institutions does not help in their ultimate rehabilitation as it does not ward off the stigma which the society attaches to the released inmates. Considered from this standpoint, the punishment of the offender does not end with the termination of his institutional incarceration but it continues as a life-long record, making it difficult for an offender to go back to the community as a decent law-abiding citizen despite his genuine and sincere efforts to lead an honest and up-right life.

This problem can be effectively tackled by developing adequate after-care services as an integral part of the correctional method of treatment of offenders. Unfortunately, this important aspect of rehabilitative process has, by and large, remained neglected in the present-day Indian penal system. Though there are some shelter-homes and after-care centres in some States, but they are hardly sufficient to cater to the needs of ever-increasing number of released prisoners.

Before concluding, it must be stated that the modern trend in penology and sentencing procedures is to emphasise the humanist principle of individualisation of punishment to suit the offender and his resocialisation. The penal policy should be aimed at protecting the society by preventing crime.

It must be accepted that punishment is institutionalised violence and it can be justified only when it deters the offender from committing the offence in future and also deters others from indulging in criminal acts. While choosing any system of punishment the intended effects thereof need to be considered very carefully.

Unduly tough measures of punishment would lead to feelings of resentment and rejection which would frustrate the very purpose of penal justice. The punishment should be severe enough to deter but not too severe to be brutal. Likewise, it should be moderate enough to be human but not too moderate to be ineffective.

It has to be so designed as to reform the offender and reclaim him as a law abiding member of the society. The focus of attention should be to make the offender realise that the offence which he has committed is not only harmful to the society of which he is an integral part, but is harmful to his own future as well. It is only then, that the true object of penology can be said to have been achieved.

AQA Sociology A2 and AS revision

Essay plan — labelling theory

Using material from Item A and elsewhere, assess the usefulness of labelling theory in explaining crime and deviance. (21 marks)

Labelling theory shed light on the labelling process that deems someone as criminal or deviant. E. g Becker argues someone only becomes deviant because moral entrepreneurs with power and resources declare someone to be. This could explain why homosexuality was deemed deviant and even criminal in the past because religion was the largest moral entrepreneur. Now it is no longer considered deviant or criminal because LGBTQI groups hold lots of power and pressurized governments to change. Labelling theory shows that no act in itself is deviant, but the labelling process creates deviance.

This shows the importance of power relationships between those who commit acts and those who deem those actors to be deviant.

However ignores the fact there are many acts in the world that anyone would consider criminal in itself, such as murder or sexual violence. Therefore this theory is inadequate at understanding some things are just ‘wrong’ in themselves, a person or group do not have to label it to be known.

However, on this point there are differences across the world in what is ‘wrong’ morally or otherwise. For instance it is argued that everyone believes killing or murder is wrong, yet we have armies that slaughter and in the East there are countries that condone ‘honour killings’ which are just another form of murder. Therefore actually labelling theory is more adequate and useful at explaining the differences in crime compared to other theories which argue an act is criminal in itself, when other societies would disagree.

Labelling theory can aid understanding of why there are big differences in crime rates, i. e why the working classes and ethnic minorities are overrepresented in the official crime statistics. This is because of selective law enforcement. In practicality the police do not have unlimited resources and have to tackle crime selectively, they act on racist and prejudiced assumptions and label people as deviant in order to meet quotas and be seen to be tackling crime. For example Cicourel found that police officers attached harmful stereotypes called typifications to working class youth even when the middle class youth did the same thing. The police were more likely to conceive acts of the WC youth as deviant or criminal compared to the MC youth. The police let off the MC youth for criminal or deviant acts because the MC parents could negotiate justice (e. g my kid is just acting out, they are a good child and will not do it again).

+ Shows the importance of stereotyping in understanding deviance and law enforcement

Realists would rebut this argument by saying that potentially there is more WC crime compared to MC and as such the police to not stereotype working class youth but know what to look out for because the same group have committed so much crime. In fact the Left realists would argue that WC youth do commit more crime because they are more marginalised, relatively deprived and form into delinquent subcultures.

Labelling theory ignores the importance of wider structural factors like poverty in crime, those who are poor might be more likely to commit crime rather than those who are poor are more likely to be labelled as deviant.

Doesn’t explain where prejudice comes from in the first place, where did the first person who labelled someone get the idea to label that person from? Does not explain that.

Doesn’t explain why some people are labelled and others are not!

Labelling theory can highlight the labelling process and how it works in detail as well. For instance Lemert (1972) distinguishes between primary and secondary deviance and how behaviour moves from being an act to becoming deviant or criminal. To explain, if we use the example of a peadophile who only downloads child pornography in their free time at home on their computer then they aren’t labelled as deviant and their activities don’t affect their self concept. This is primary deviance. However as soon as that deviance becomes public and people find out about it, such as a neighbour house sitting finding the child pornography on the computer, the person is labelled as a peadophile and this becomes secondary deviance. Different to the straight forward ‘you are deviant’ label, Lemert argues that secondary deviance manifests itself in the self-concept of the deviant, meaning that a person becomes their label and everyone treats them as that label. For example Becker argues that is a child pornographer was a manager or mother, or sister or samaritain it wouldn’t matter, a master status effect would come into play and they would only be known by their label peadophile.

If nothing in itself is deviant before secondary deviance or even primary deviance why do some people react so strongly with labels.

This argues that deviance becomes deviance when people label it but people know they are being deviant before it is labeled so it is not just the labelling process.

However it could be argued that people know they are being deviant before they are personally labelled because people before them have been labelled after doing the same act and so they are conscious of it even before they have been caught out.

+ Highlights details of the labelling process that structuralist theories simply cannot.

Because this theory is concerned with the labelling process it does not explain the cause of deviance in the first place, before a label why does someone choose to do an immoral act?

+ Although it can show how the label affects self concept in a way other theories cannot.

Labelling theory is useful in explaining how deviance can be amplified by media’s reaction to it. For instance Young (1971) showed how people who recreationally used cannabis got picked up by the media and stereotyped as hippies with long hair tie dye tshirts and smoked cannabis a lot. The effect of the media’s reaction meant that those who did have those attributes were stereotyped and labelled as deviant. This caused them to be marginalised in society, although this marginalisation process caused the ‘hippies’ to band together and smoke weed more as thats what everyone thought was happening anyway. Labelling process can explain how the label attached to someone causes them to act more like their label in a Self Fulfilling Prophecy fashion.

+ Shows how labelling can lead to SFP and deviant careers.

This theory even as an action theory is very deterministic in that it assumes once someone has been labelled they will become deviant, but in most cases it would put someone off that act or avoid deviance all together because of the strong public reaction to it.

Removes blame from deviants to labellers, romanticises them.