Labelling Theory

A2 Sociology - Labelling Theory

  • Created by: Gemma
  • Created on: 17-03-12 11:24

the social construction of deviance

  • For labelling theorists, deviance is a social construct
  • Labelling Theorists argue that social control agencies (police, courts etc) label certain groups as criminal. Piliavan and Briar (1964) found police decisions to arrest were based on stereotypical ideas about manner, dress, class, ethnicity, time and place
  • Typifications: Cicourel (1976) argues that police use typifications (stereotypes) of the 'typical delinquent'. These people are more likely to be stopped, arrested and charged. Working class and ethnic minorities are more likely to be arrested, and those from broken homes are more likely to be charged. Middle class juveniles are less likely to fit the typification and if arrested they are less likely to be charged 
  • Because working class people fit the typifications, police patrol working class areas which results in more working class arrests, so crime stats recorded by the police do not give a valid picture
  • Circourel - we should take crime stats as a topic to investigate the processes of how they are constucted 
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The effects of labelling

Lemert (1972) argues that by labelling certain people as deviant, society actually encourages them to become more so: societal reaction causes 'secondary deviance'.

Primary deviance - deviant acts that haven't been publicly labelled. They have many causes, often go uncaught and are trivial. Those who commit them do not usually see themselves as deviant

Secondary deviance - results from societal reaction. Labelling someone as an offender can involve stigmatising and excluding them from normal society. Others may see the offender solely in terms of the label, which becomes the individuals master status for controlling identity. 

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self fulfilling prophecy (SFP)

  • being labelled may provoke a crisis for the individual's self concept and lead to a SFP where they live up to the label, resulting in secondary violence
  • further societal reaction may reinforce the individual's outsider status and lead to them joining a deviant subculture that offers support, role models and a deviant career

Young's (1971) study of hippy marijuana users illustrates these processes

  • drug use was initally peripheral to the hippies lifestyle (primary deviance), but police persecution of them as junkies (societal reaction) led them to retreat into closed groups, developing a deviant subculture where drug use became a central activity (self fulfilling prophecy)
  • The control processes aimed at producing law abiding behaviour thus produced the opposite
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deviance amplification spiral

In a deviance amplification spiral, the attempt to control deviance leads to it increasing rather than decreasing - resulting in greater attempts to control it, and in turn, yet more deviance, in an escalating spiral, as with the hippies described by Young

Folk devils and moral panics Cohen (1972) study of the mods and rockers uses rge concept of deviance amplification spiral:

  • media exaggeration and distortion began a moral panic with growing public concern
  • moral entrepreneurs called for a 'crackdown'. Police responded by arresting more youths, provoking more concern
  • demonising the mods and rockers as 'folk devils' marginalised them further, resulting in more deviance

The work of Cohen and Young points to a key difference with functionalism:

  • Functionalists see deviance producing social control
  • Labelling Theorists see control producing further deviance
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Liam Sparkes


helped a lot thanks

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