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The Labelling theory is a valuable and highly significant way in which helps in the understanding of crime. The theory has made a great contribution in helping analysing, evaluating and investigating the reasons behind crimes and possibly why they are being committed. It has many acknowledgeable and interesting characteristics, which makes the theory unique, and very successful in terms of its findings and theories. Labelling rose to prominence in the 1960s and 1970s, due to the work of American sociologists Becker, Schur, and Lemert. . They have all come up with different views of the labelling theory and how it can be interpreted in terms of the explanation of crime. Labelling theory helps to identify, people don't necessarily need to be criminals to commit crimes. A label which can be tagged upon an individual is sufficient to make the individual believe in the label, hence self fulfilling prophecy, and live up to the label. The theory is concerned with how the self- identity and behaviour of individuals may be determined or influenced by the terms used to describe or classify them, and is associated with the concept of a self-fulfilling prophecy and stereotyping.
Labelling may exacerbate, amplify or even cause crime and deviance, thus initiating deviant careers, as well as generating deviant subcultures, The key to understanding law-violating behaviour, was the way the social institutions, such as the family, schools and criminal justice system, respond to conduct which is outside acceptable behavioural parameters. The theory acknowledges the power of the institutions, which is stigmatizing adults as criminals and children as delinquents, consequently when they realise they have few paths to follow; they may take on the role, thus completing the labelling process. John Braithwaite found that societies which shames have higher rates of crime in comparison to those don't. However, in communities that offer reintegrate shaming, which allows the offenders to rejoin the community, are less likely to return to the crime. This clearly illustrates the power of the institutions.
Furthermore, this is also supported by Becker, who once famously was quoted as saying, "Social groups create deviance by making rules, and by applying those rules to particular people and labelling them as outsiders. From this point of view, deviance is not a quality of the act a person commits, but rather a consequence of the application by others of rules and sanctions to an "offender", The deviant is one to whom the label has successfully been applied; deviant behaviour is behaviour that people so label". This emphasises the audience's reaction has an extremely significant impact on an individuals action being labelled or not.
The labelling process is similar to the conflict theory, in terms of accentuating the influence of powerful groups, such as social agents, to define and react to crime and deviance, that those in power will enforce law in a manner that benefits themselves to the detriment of the less powerful.
Moreover, other aspects of the labelling theory is the fact that is uses an interactionist definition of crime, therefore meaning crime and deviance are defined by the social audiences reaction to people and their behaviour and the subsequent effect of that reactions, they are not defined by the moral content of the illegal act itself. Interpretations of crimes does vary, as Howard Becker found, as in some societies rule are created by different groups of people, individuals, towards so many various topics, such as abortion, and he called them 'moral entrepreneurs'. In addition, this is further supported, by the differential enforcement, meaning people are treated are differently based on particular factors such as race, wealth gender and social standing. Therefore, meaning police more likely to suspect, search, question and arrest males, minority group members, lower class. Judges may be biased, and help white people from good families, to help prevent that individual obtaining a criminal label, much more harsh on an individual from a poor background. This is view is reinforced and illustrated in terms of the white collar crimes. Economic crimes committed by the upper class; which results in small fines and rarely a prison sentence, in comparison to street crime, which leads to long sentences. It's almost as if there is a glass ceiling which leads to the differential treatment.
In addition, another essential and key concept of the Labelling theory is based upon Edwin Lemert's introduction of primary and secondary deviance. This is a break down of stages, in how the individual possibly leads to a life of crime. It is a great way of interpreting and understanding crime. Primary deviance involves norm violations or crimes that have very little influence on the actor and can be quickly forgotten. For example, if there was student and he stole a book in school library for an examination, and then passes the exam using the books, gets into a medical school and later becomes a doctor. The fact that it goes unnoticed, it has no bearing on the student's life.
Secondary deviance is the stage where it occurs when a deviant act come to attention, thus being applied by a social agent or other a negative label, which inevitably leads to the student suffering from a downward spiral and immense implications. For example, the student trying to shoplift is caught by the guard at the library, is then expelled from college, then starts to suffer from the label believing everything negative, and eventually turns in to drug dealer and winds up in prison. Secondary deviance involves re-socialization into a deviant role. Lemert says, the person transforms into one who "employs his behaviour or a role based upon it as a means of defence, attack or adjustment to the overt and covert problems created by the consequent social reaction to him."
Parents promote deviance amplification by labelling children as troublemakers. Then once stigmatized the young adolescences self assess and looking glass self- interpreting people's conceptions. There are immense implications the Labelling effects have, considerable evidence suggesting social sanctions lead to self - labelling and deviance amplification. Parents negatively label children leads to antisocial behaviour and school failure. Labelling plays a role in persistent offending. They are like to continue to initiate criminal behaviour if their parents and peers still view in them in a bad light as a result of damaged identity. There is a cumulative disadvantage which provokes to repeat their adolescent behaviour. Findings by Jon Gunnar Bernburg and Marvin Krohn demonstrate that the cumulative disadvantage increase the probability of anti social behaviour being committed. Kids who were labelled in adolescence were much more likely to engage in crime in early adulthood, unless they overcame labels and achieved in school or obtained meaningful employment opportunities.
The labelling perspective identifies the role played by social agents in the process of crime causation.
Labelling alienates and isolates parents and children, causing reducing child self image and increasing delinquency- process is known as reflected appraisals. It also means they seek peers whose behaviour amplifies the effect of the labelling.
As they go older, repeated labelling damages identity.
Deviant self concept, join delinquent peers, gangs, escalates in to crime.
Powers of negative labels, courts are not deterrent, official label makes things worse for the offender, school drop out.
Labels are believed to produce stigma. The labelled deviant becomes a social outcast who may be prevented from enjoying a higher education, well-paying jobs, and other social benefits. Such alienation leads to a low self-image. Joining other delinquents who facilitate their behaviour.
The desire to join delinquent gangs comes from a self- rejecting attitude. This leads to the creation of a deviant subculture. This is where outcasts who have been labelled and not accepted by society can bond with each other, conforming to those norms and values of that subculture, which can sometimes mean defying conventional values. Furthermore, Symbolic interactionism is an imperative way of explaining and understanding crime. This is because the individual's value their own conduct based on the groups, or gradually internalize the expectations of the group which they socialize as social definitions, largely in reaction to rewards and sanctions. , for example praising children who are 'polite'.
Moreover, having analysed the labelling theory, Long term effects of labelling are illustrated by Richard Schwartz and Jerome Skolnick (1962) who found out that it is very difficult to attain employment and avoid the 'convict' label, past records plays a influential role in the employment process.
Self fulfilling prophecy- primary deviation and then secondary deviation- Lemert
Criticisms of labelling theory- Taylor et al 1973, it neglects a concern with the causes of crime. It is too social psychological, neglecting wider concerns of power, structure and history, being too individualistic, subjective and relativistic. It is vague and lacks an objective foundation.
Interpretation of crime varies
Validity of the Labelling theory
Looking glass self- interpreting peoples conceptions
They may join with outsiders in a delinquent subculture
Agents of criminal justice system start the process, and offenders are never accepted and labelled. People tagged because of status in society.
The labelling process is based on particular circumstances, for a crime to be labelled, such as the when and where the act is committed, who is the victim, and the consequence of the act. - depends on society.