Subjectivist Approach: Sociology
SOCIAL R EACTION T HEORIES :LABELING THEORY
Context: not the act itself, but the contextual meaning attached to it that is deviant.
Reaction: Deviance is in the eye of the beholder.
3 Questions they want answered:
1. Who gets labeled as deviant?
2. How do they get labeled deviant?
3. What are the consequences of being labeled deviant?
There are two types of labeling:
Informal labeling: occurs through family, friends, peers. Consequences less severe.
Formal labeling: don’t by agents of social control (police, courts, teachers).
Consequences are a lot greater.
Depends on if you are being defined, or if you are the definer. Those who are being
defined tend to have lower social standings. Through labeling, dominant groups can
force less powerful people to do the things that they want.
Dramatization of Evil (Tennebaum)
Looking at the way juveniles become delinquent.
Argument; Young teens engage in activities that are experimental and adults
disapprove of those actions, so they create laws to prohibit activities of young
people (ex. Drinking). If you disobey these rules, you are seen as a dramatization of
evil so other people see the act as evil. Labeling other people as deviant or evil will
prevent others from doing the same.
Status degradation (Garfinkel): When someone with a good status (positive) turns
into a negative one- people begin to look down on you. Ex. In court, you are labeled
as guilty, sentenced, and punished.
Looked at crime as a label.
1. Moral entrepreneur: those with the power to create moral norms. May get
translated into law. Focus on getting public attention to show that this
behavior is bad. Once public is on board, push for it to be legislated.
2. Deviant Career: People can have deviant careers in the same way they can
have normal careers. Four stages: novice (new stage- don’t have any
expertise), new recruit (still new, but you have some skills and start gaining
experience), veteran (those who mentor novices and new recruits), retiree
(you retire). 3. Master Status: Looking at people’s social status (a status that overrides all
other statuses). Overrides all other statuses, regardless of the context that
person is situated in. May affect how a person responds to you, sees you, or
the opportunities they have. (Ex. Doctor, convict). Can be positive or
negative. Can be achieved (earned) or ascribed (one which you are born into-
typically can’t change).
Consequences: achieved –gossip, ridicule, discrimination, voting.
Some people are more likely to be labeled criminal than others. Some people are
reacted t o more severely than others for the same act.
Requirement: Initial violation of rules or norms.
Label: There is no label until you are caught by formal or informal means.
Conditions: Until you’re caught, engaging in a behavior stays in primary deviance.
Occurrences: everyone does it in some way or another.
Result: of continuous and formal social violation. Person’s role becomes evolved
around this role.
Self-fulfilling prophecy: When people are labeled as something, they internalize it
and become this label.
Consequence: Usually severe- institutionalized or kept in house arrest- Can leave a
person with a stigma (differentness about an individual who is given a negative
evaluation by others- distorts and discredits their public identity).
LEGAL S TIGMA :SCHWARTZ &S KOLNICK
Wanted to know the consequences of just having contact with police or the courts-
what kind of stigma?
Did an experiment- had 4 folders prepared, all the same except for criminal court
Folder 4- person had no record. 9/25 gave positive responses.
Folder 1- person had a record, paid debt and did punishment. 1/25 positive
Folder 2 – person accused, but acquitted. 3/25 offered jobs.
Folder 3- acquitted, but had letter from judge. 6/25 offered jobs.
Official labels: Want to reduce number of official labels.
Institutionalization: limit institutionalization of crimes to more serious offences.
Diversion programs: try to reintegrate those who are convicted so they stay out of
the system. Minor offences: Look at channeling people to more community service orders, keep
tem out of prison.
Probation and parole: Increase use of probation and parole.
Decriminalization: Of many non-serious violations (vagrancy, minor drug charges)
Teenagers: When you turn 18, your record is expunged (fresh start, no more
criminal label). Withhold identification of criminals under the age of 18- keep them
from being labeled in community.
P ROBLEMS :
1. Career Criminal: people may become career criminals before they are ever
2. Deterrence: When people are reacted to as criminal- they may be deterred
from engaging in that behavior.
3. Causes: What causes people to be deviant in the first place?
4. Psychological problems: Some people display problems before they even get
5. Passive receptor: Treats the deviant as a passive receptor- they receive label,
internalize it as if they have no free will to resist it.
6. Susceptibility: Does not specify what types of personalities are more
susceptible to the application of labels.
7. Formal labels: Focuses on formal labels- ignores reactions of informal
labeling. Informal labels could be significant or more powerful than formal
Marxist Theories (“Radical Criminology”)
Relations of power- the power people have within society can set up the structure of
society. Argued there is a conflict among society and conflict gets resolved around
issues of power.
The structure of society is set up for favor those with economic power.
Bourgeoisie: those who own the means of production.
Proletariat: those who sell their labor for wages.
Because the proletariats have nothing, do not get to decide on laws or controlling of
laws in society- bourgeoisie get to create and enforce the law.
1. “Reaction of deprivation” Thesis (Greenberg)
View crime as a calculated response on rational individuals who have to confront
miserable conditions. Ex. Those who do not have access to the means of production.
People act and behave in their own economic interest- need for survival.
View property crime as a mean to live.
Violent crime: unsophisticated means of stealing (robbery) or vent frustrations for
marginal position. 2. “Crisis of legitimacy” (Friedrich)
Legitimacy of authority: Looks at how social order reflects legitimacy of authority-
Political leaders and institutions: police have position of power and can use force.
People have faith in the legitimacy of the authority over them.
Social institutions: There can be erosion over political leaders and institutions
(crisis of legitimacy).
Consequences: Citizens see social institutions as unfair or beyond what is
reasonable- spurs more crime, protests, rebellion.
APPLICATION OLAW (60’S AND70’S)
1. Instrumental Marxism
Ruling class: See ruling class as part of conspiracy who are united- work together
to create laws in their own interest. Designed to preserve and expand economic
State: Often enlist the state- an important instrument for ruling class to create social
order that works in their best interests.
Explains statistics: Can explain overrepresentations of lower classes in criminal
Lower & Upper classes: low classes are targets; upper classes are objects of legal
2. Structural Marxist
Ruling class: Compete among themselves (ruling classes) and don’t want to work
together unless its in their own best interest. Economic interests of elites need to be
State: Is not an instrument for the elite, and is used for many groups. Occasionally
the state protects the workers but only short term.
State protection: Government creates laws to ensure safety of workers.
Liberal Conflict Theories
GENERAL M ODEL OFC ONFLICTT HEORY
CONTROL OF LAW A PPLICATION OF CRIMINAL ACTIVITY CRIMINAL CAREERS
AND SOCIETY L AW
POWER A PPLY LAW-LAW CRIMINAL ACTIVITY CAN THOSE WHO REFUSE
IS APPLID IN WAYS BE TAKEN UP BY THE TO CONFORM OR
THAT FAVOR THE LOWER CLASSE-MORE OCCUPY ROLES.
WEALTHY AND LIKELY TO BE LABELED AENGAGE IN
CONTROL THE CRIMINA-MORE LIKELY ACTIVITIES AGSINT
POWERLESS . TO REBEL AGAINST THE INTEREST OF
STATE. POWERFUL GROUPS Culture Conflict (Sellin)
Conduct norms: How to behave in a particular society. When differing cultures of
subcultures come into contact, conflict can arise.
Conflict: The more complex a society is, more conflict.
Resources: The more legitimate your culture is seen, more resources culture will
receive (from the state).
Law: Dominant group can change conduct norms into law.
Group Conflict (Vold)
Humans are compelled by necessity to come in contact with each other in a group
context. Can be an affective way in achieving our best interest.
Groups: Form groups that can provide us with numbers to act together.
Competition: Each group has their own interest- competition with other groups
including searching for scarce resources.
Resources: Groups fight for scarce resources.
Role of the state: The state enforces law.
Political Support: Groups with more political support more likely to have their
interests made into law. Used for management/labor.
Authorities- Subjects (Turk)
Power: Differences in power can be at the individual level- our power determines
the interaction we have with other people. If we interact with those of similar
power, less conflict.
Institutional structure: Provides people with a particular power- looking at
whether or not a group possesses legitimate authority to control actions of other
groups. (Ex. Prisons, prison guards vs. inmates). The less power you have, the less
autonomy you have.
Authorities & subjects: Can be conflict between these two group