I have always been curious to know if the labeling theory was a useful theory. I have always considered the labeling theory to be a hard theory to measure. It is hard to measure if a label becomes the cause for a person to become delinquent. Is it the label or some other factors? This paper will go into detail about some of the main contributors to the labeling theory. It will explain how the contributors applied the labeling theory. This paper will also explain how the labeling theory grew into what it is today. And it will summarize two empirical articles of the labeling theory.
Many labeling theorists believe that labeling and reacting to offenders as criminals has dangers consequences and it helps deepen the criminal behavior and making the crime problem worse. They believe that the criminal justice system is dangerous in the sense that it is casting the net of social control too widely. Labeling theorist is concern with how the self identity and behavior of an individual is influenced by how that person is label and portrayed by others in society, and just like “beauty, deviance is seen in the eyes of the beholder.
There is nothing inherently deviant in any human act, something is deviant only because some people have been successful in labeling it so (Jerry Simmons 1969,Liqun Cao pg134). ” The labeling theory originated from sociology and criminology and many people believe that the labeling theory focuses on the negative consequences of stigmatizing the individuals who are labeled as criminal, delinquent, and or deviant. The labeling theory also, focuses on how the majority tends to negatively label minorities or those people who are seen as deviant from the norms of society.
The labeling theory was real prominent in the mid 1960’s and early 1970’s, because of the rapid social change of that time era. Instead of asking who is a deviant or criminal, labeling theory sees it as always a process of interaction between at least two kinds of people: those who commit a deviant/criminal act and those who are watching the act (Liqun Cao pg134). Frank Tannenbaun was perhaps the first labeling theorist, back in 1938, when he wrote Crime and Community.
Tannenbaum suggested that deviant behavior was not so much a product of the deviant’s lack of adjustment to society as it was the fact that he/she had adjusted to special group (Liqun Cao pg134). His main concept was the dramatization of evil and with it, he argued that the process of tagging, defining, identifying, segregating, describing, and emphasizing any individual out for special treatment becomes a way of stimulating, suggesting, and evoking the very traits that are complained of. A person becomes the thing they are described as being.
Edwin Lemert is probably best known for developing what is called the societal reaction approach. This approach distinguishes between primary and secondary deviance. Primary deviance is individuals who get themselves involved in rule breaking behavior and do not see themselves as deviant and “are initial acts of norm violations or crime that have very little influence on the actor and can be quickly forgotten (Liqun Cao pg135). ” Primary deviance arises for a wide variety of reasons, biological, psychological, and or sociological. Secondary deviance is individuals who accept their deviant status.
When a negative label gets applied to someone visibly and powerfully it becomes apart of that person’s identity and that is what Edwin Lemert called secondary deviance. Secondary or intensified deviance becomes a means of defense, attack, or adaptation to the problems caused by societal reaction to primary deviation. Societal reaction is more important to study since it sheds light on things like community tolerance quotients. Societal reaction theorists often make claims similar to functionalists, that the process of defining and suppressing deviance is important to social solidarity.
Sometimes, this is also referred to as the “moral panics” literature (Goode and Ben-Yehuda 1994). Howard Becker and a group of labeling theorists began exploring how and why certain acts were defined as criminal or deviant and why other such acts were not. They questioned how and why certain people became defined as criminal or deviant (Howard Becker 1963). The theorists viewed criminals not as evil people who engaged in wrong acts, but as individuals who had a criminal status placed upon them by both the criminal justice system and the community surrounding them.
Howard Becker believes the labeling theory focuses on the reaction of other people and the subsequent effects of those reactions, which creates deviance. When it becomes known that a person has engaged in deviant acts, she or he is then segregated from society and thus labeled, whore, thief, abuser, junkie, and etc. Howard Becker noted that this process of segregation creates outsiders, who are outcast from society, in which they begin to associate with other individuals who have also been cast out by society.
Howard Becker is considered by many as the founder of labeling theory. He coined the term moral entrepreneur to describe individuals who lead campaigns to outlaw certain behaviors by making them criminal. The deviant person subsequent behavior is therefore not the important thing to study, because what is more important is whether the innocent are falsely accused and exactly which deviant person is rounded up and processed through the criminal justice system.
Howard Becker and other labeling theorists believe the system exercises a lower class bias in rounding up offenders, and that FBI statistics are useless as a measure of how much crime is really out there, but useful in measuring class, race, and gender bias, since mostly urban poor black males are arrested (Howard Becker 1963). Sometimes these are referred to as extra-legal factors. Howard Becker believes being a criminal becomes a person’s master status. It controls the way they are identified in public.
Others do not consider their other statuses such as being a spouse, parent, or worker, but only think about that they are first and foremost a criminal. Sometimes this public scrutiny might scare or shame a person into conformity, but most likely it has the effect of pushing the person to the point where they forfeit all further attempts at conformity. Howard Becker says an identity change takes place where the person’s self concept loses any further stake in conformity, and because a deviant self-image is now in place, there’s pressure to behave consistently as deviant (Becker 1963).
Furthermore, people who are labeled deviant tend to lose contact with their conformist friends and start associating with similarly labeled deviants. Howard Becker’s focus on moral entrepreneurs and those who seize power seems to have been his most enduring contribution. Campaigns to define and suppress deviance have been studied by a number of criminologists, whether the motive is to seize power, as in the war on drugs, to ritually expel evil from society in the form of scapegoats like witches and the mentally ill, or to make symbolic crusades, as in the case of alcohol crackdowns (Becker 1963).
In John Braithwaite book “Crime, Shame and Reintegration,” he explore the process of social control known as shaming. There are two types of shaming reintegrative and disintegrative. Reintergrative shaming means to bring the offender back into the fold of society and disintegrative shaming means to reject the offender for good from society. Reintegrative shaming can be accomplished only if there are societal rituals or gestures of forgiveness to decertify the offender as deviant.
In Braithwaite book, he points out that the United States, because of its high urbanization, heterogeneity, residential mobility, and ideology of individualism, has a surplus of ceremonies to confer deviant status on people, but few to no ceremonies allowing people the opportunity to exit the deviant role (John Braithwaite pg124). Disintergrative shaming is consistent with the claims of labeling theory, and Braithwaite argued that disintegrative shaming does indeed create a class of outcasts (John Braithwaite pg152).
The offenders are prevented from bonding back into society, and can only become more embedded in crime as a result of being branded a criminal. Modern labeling theorists today are rarely seen like those that predominated in the late 1960s. There are still social constructivist accounts of some type of deviance or another, and studies about the meaning of crime to criminals and are still ongoing. A shift seemed to have taken place around 1974 in which the labeling theory accommodated itself to legalistic definitions, or at least a focus on state power.
Modern labeling theories came to recognize that societies create crime by passing laws, and that the substantive nature of the law should be an object of study. Sometimes these are called criminalization theories (Clayton Hartjen 1974), and they have some resemblance to societal reaction approaches, but they more closely fall into a field that criminologists trained in sociology call the sociology of law perspective or the study of law as a mechanism of social control. Labeling theories that focus on state power can be considered as branches of control-ology (Clayton Hartjen 1974).
Most modern labeling theorists have been influenced by a critique of the underdog focus which was provided by Alexander Liazos (1972) when he said that sociologists need to stop studying “nuts, sluts, and perverts. ” Control-ology refers to a group of theories with some interest in crime waves and moral panics, but mostly the view that criminal justice agencies are part of broader social control mechanisms, like welfare, mental health, education, the military, and the mass media, all of which are used by the state to control problem populations.
The foundation of control-ology was built by Michel Foucault who argued that various instruments of social control (more humane, enlightened, reasonable responses to deviance) are packaged and sold by the state to cover up the inherent coercion and power in the system (Michel Foucault 1977). The state is always trying to portray a velvet glove where its ultimate goal is to exercise its iron fist, so that they can control the troublesome populations.
Theorists who see the world this way tend to focus heavily on the thinking and words of the more activist groups in society, and it is called the universe of discourse. Other theorists draw heavily from other philosophical areas, as we’ll see with the next example below. Labeling theory has also been applied to the mentally ill. This was first done in 1966 when Thomas Scheff published Being Mentally ill. Scheff challenged common perceptions of mental illness by claiming that mental illness is manifested solely as a result of societal influence.
He argued that society views certain actions as deviant and, in order to come to terms with and understand these actions, often places the label of mental illness on those who exhibit them. Certain expectations are then placed on these individuals and, over time, they unconsciously change their behavior to fulfill them. Criteria for different mental illnesses are not consistently filled by those who are diagnosed with them because all of these people suffer from the same disorder, they are simply fulfilled because the mentally ill believe they are supposed to act a certain way so, over time, come to do so.
Scheff’s theory has had many critics who disagreed, most notably Walter Gove. Gove has consistently argued an almost opposite theory; he believes that society has no influence at all on mental illness. Instead, any societal perceptions of the mentally ill come about as a direct result of these people’s behaviors. In Gove’s view, the mentally ill behave unnaturally a lot of the time because of their disorders, so we treat them differently. Most sociologists’ views of labeling and mental illness fall somewhere between the extremes of Gove and Scheff.
Especially considering recent research on the biological roots of manic depression and schizophrenia, it is difficult to believe that mental illness is always a result of society. On the other hand, it is almost impossible to deny, given both common sense and research findings, that society’s negative perceptions of “crazy” people has had some effect on them. It seems that, realistically, labeling can highlight and prolong mental illness, but it is rarely the full cause of symptoms. Bruce G. Link and his colleagues have conducted several studies which point to the influence that labeling can have on mental patients.
Through these studies, which took place in 1987, 1989, and 1997, Bruce Link has demonstrated that expectations of labeling can have a large negative effect on the mentally ill, that these expectations often cause patients to withdraw from society, and that the mentally ill are constantly being rejected from society in seemingly minor ways but that, when taken as a whole, all of these small slights can drastically alter their self concepts. It is obvious that the mentally ill both anticipate and perceive negative societal reactions to them, and that this can potentially damage their quality of life.
Many other studies have been conducted in this general vein. To provide a few examples, several studies have indicated that most people associate being labeled mentally ill as being just as, or even more, stigmatizing than being seen as a drug addict, ex-convict, or prostitute. Bruce Link study found that self declared ex-mental patients are much less likely to be offered apartment leases or hired for jobs. Clearly, these studies and the dozens of others like them serve to demonstrate that labeling can have a very real and very large effect on the mentally ill.
None of these studies, nor any other published ones, however, prove that labeling is the sole cause of any symptoms of mental illness. Unlike when applied to the criminal world, the label of mentally ill can sometimes have a positive effect on the person who receives it. Once a person is labeled, he or she knows to seek the correct help. There is extensive literature which points to the effectiveness of psychotherapy, a strategy that is utilized in most diagnoses (Bruce Link 1997). Being diagnosed also usually means being prescribed with medication.
This, while not helpful for everyone, has been shown to significantly improve the quality of life for many. Labels, while they can be stigmatizing, can also lead those who have them down the road to proper treatment and hopefully recovery. If the label of mental illness did not exist, then treatment for it would never have existed either (Thomas Scheff 1966). If one believes that being mentally ill is more than just believing one should fulfill a set of diagnostic criteria as Scheff would argue, then one would probably also agree that those who are mentally ill need help.
This could never happen if we did not have a way to categorize and therefore label them. The first article I looked at that test the labeling theory was titled; An Empirical Test of Labeling Theory using Longitudinal Data. This article focused on adolescents between 13 and 17 who use alcohol or other illegal drugs. The labeling theory remains one of the most popular theoretical perspectives for the study of deviant behavior, but there is a lack of empirical support for its major proposition that labels cause changes in behavior. Labeling represents an interactive process that culminates over time.
Measurements of such a process requires either the use of the simultaneous equation technique wit cross sectional data or an analysis of longitudinal data (Melvin Ray 1986). Most available research is based on cross sectional data, but fails to use the simultaneous equation technique. Thus most available studies cannot distinguish the direction of causality between deviant behavior and labels. Another obstacle to the empirical verification of labeling theory has been the difficulty involved in the measuring identification with deviant labels.
According to Rosenberg (1979), most research on the self concept has relied solely on measures of self-esteem, which are inappropriate for signaling the adoption of a deviant identity because it is possible to adopt a deviant identity with either high or low self-esteem. Rosenberg’s criticism calls into question the role of self-esteem in the labeling process, implying that self-esteem may either have no effect on the labeling process or may interact with the labeling process in a complex manner.
Given the lack of empirical support, the competing hypotheses of deviant behavior as a cause of deviant labels and/or deviant identity must be given equal weight with the labeling proposition of secondary deviance. There is an additional question as well. Females are expected to be more attentive to interpersonal relationships than males, and thus may be more susceptible to the labeling process than males (William Downs 1986). Therefore, labels my exert more of an influence on behavior among females than males.
This article use longitudinal data and multiple regression of follow up baseline data to test direction of causality between deviant behavior and labels. This article is concerned with testing whether deviant labels over time exert more influence on behavior, or whether behavior over time exerts more influence on deviant labels. Given the possibility of sex difference, tests will be performed separately on males and females. Their research shows that causal processes are different between male and female.
The labeling theory proposition of secondary deviance is supported for adolescent male, but not for females. For males, two labeling variables were used; self label and formal label. And these two variables are causally prior to drug use behavior (Williams Downs 1986). On the contrary, drug use is unrelated to future self labeling, parental labeling, and or formal labeling. As a result causality is largely unidirectional among the males with drug use behavior adjusting to previous levels of deviant labels. This process seems to be identical to the labeling proposition of secondary deviance.
When it comes to females there is no support for the proposition of secondary deviance. None of the of three variables played a role in future drug use while controlling for baseline drug use. Therefore labels had no effect on drug use for females. As an alternative, the drug use of adolescent females is highly stable over time, and is causally prior to their self label (Melvin Ray 1986). Thus, among adolescent females, causality is largely unidirectional with self label adjusting to prior levels of drug use behavior.
This process is not what secondary deviance predicted. Many researchers believed that secondary deviance should apply more to females than males, because in society females are expected to be dependent on others and more conforming than males (Williams Downs 1986). Females were believed to be more vulnerable to interpersonal influences than males. Therefore, secondary deviance was expected to apply more to females than males, but as we can see it did not have an effect that was originally predicted.
A closer examination of this sex difference in results indicates a possible explanation for this seeming contradiction. For adolescent males, self label was an important independent variable and was the strongest predictor of follow up drug use. This result indicated that males adjust their behavior in accordance with their own categorization of that particular behavior. This finding indicates that males exercise control over their drug use behavior through self labeling. For adolescent females, self labeling is a not an important variable because it is unrelated to the follow up drug use.
This shows that adolescent females do not exercise control over their behavior through self labeling. Drug use behavior does not affect their self label and this result indicates that adolescent females categorizes their behavior after the behavior has already occurred. This means that adolescent females create their self label in response to their behavior, but do not use their self label to control that particular behavior. The second article that was used is titled; Official Labeling, Criminal Embeddedness, and Subsequent Delinquency.
In recent attempts to elaborate on the labeling theory it has been emphasized that deviant labeling does not have a direct influence on deviant behavior, but it tends to bring conditions that are conductive to crime and delinquent behavior (Marvin Krohn 2006). The goal of there study was to observed and examine the consequences of labeling adolescents to deviant peers and delinquency. Their hypothesis focuses on the impact of juvenile justices intervention in early and middle adolescence on both association with deviant groups and deviant behavior.
The hypothesis implies that embeddingness in deviant groups should mediate the effects of juvenile justice intervention on subsequent involvement in delinquent behavior. They focused on the proposition that official labeling tends to insert the individual into deviant social groups, which would then increase the likelihood of delinquency and crime (Becker 1963). The analysis was conducted with data form Rochester Youth Development Study (RYDS), which is a multi wave panel study of the development of drug use and delinquent behavior among adolescents and young adults.
This panel is based on an initial sample of 1,000 students selected from the seventh and eighth grades of the public schools in Rochester, New York, during the 1987 to 1988 academic school year (Craig Rivera 2006). Interviews were conducted in six month intervals with each student and his/her parent or guardian. All of the interviews were conducted in private and most of them were completed by telephone. Students who often skip school (truancy) and the students who had left the Rochester schools were also interviewed, many of them were interviewed at their homes with their parents.
Data on these adolescents were also collected from school, police, courts, and social service agencies. The researchers were particularly interested in the effect of early formal contact with the juvenile justice system. The current analysis uses data from Waves 1 to 4, when the subjects are between the ages of about 13. 5 and 15. Wave 1 is 13. 5, wave 2 is 14, wave 3 is 14. 5, and wave 4 is 15. The sampling plan of the Rochester Youth Development Study (RYDS) was design to over sample youth at high risk for delinquency and drug use (Jon Bernburg 2006).
The reason they choose these two is because the base rate for these behaviors is low. In order to still be able to generalize the findings to a population of urban students a strategy had to be created. They limited the targeted population to seventh and eighth graders in the public schools of Rochester, New York, which was city that had a diverse population and relatively high crime rate. The sample was then stratified into two parts. First, the males were over sampled because they were more likely to chronic offenders and engage in delinquency than females.
Second, the students from high crime areas of the city were over sample on the belief that subjects from high crime areas are at higher risk of becoming a criminal. Since the true probability of student being selected is known, the sample can then be weighted to represent every seventh and eighth grader in the Rochester public schools. The results of the research lend to considerable support of their hypothesis and have implications for theory and research. There are three key findings. First, their findings lend to support of the ideal that official labeling activates processes that increase involvement in deviant groups.
The research has shown that teenagers who experience juvenile justice intervention are substantially more likely than their peers to become members of a gang in a successive period (Craig Rivera 2006). The peer networks of these adolescents tend to become increasingly non conventional in the sense that they are more likely to be involved in peer networks that have high levels of delinquency. Second, their findings indicate that official labeling plays a significant role in the maintenance and stability of delinquency and crime at a crucial period in early and middle adolescence (Marvin Krohn 2006).
The juvenile justice intervention is significantly associated with the increased probability of serious delinquency in a subsequent period of time, while accounting for initial levels of serious delinquency and substance use and other controls. These results are consistent with the findings of other labeling research using population samples, while we have attempted to improve some of this research with respect to statistical control and temporal ordering of labeling and subsequent deviance (Jon Bernburg 2006).
Thirdly, the present study demonstrates how labeling theory can complement established sociological approaches to crime and deviance by providing a broader viewpoint on the causes and consequences of social marginalization (Craig Rivera 2006). The theories of differential association and social learning assume that associating with delinquent and criminal others is an important immediate cause of delinquent behavior.
The labeling theory broadens the viewpoint of this research, because it points out that deviant groups provide social shelter from stigmatizations as well as providing collective rationalizations, definitions, peer pressure, and opportunities that encourage and facilitate these deviant behavior. The exclusionary processes triggered by deviant labeling may, in many cases, explain the individual’s movement into a deviant group, as well as the isolation of deviant groups from mainstream social life (Marvin Krohn 2006).
Their findings lend to empirical support to this notion, showing that the effect of official labeling on subsequent delinquency is substantial mediated by an increased probability of involvement in deviant networks. Although the findings are consistent with labeling theory, the researchers acknowledge that they could also be driven by changes in opportunity activated by the official intervention. The juvenile justice intervention may in some cases increase association with delinquent peers by placing the individual in the company of other deviant adolescent.
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