Labeling theory and deviance
Origins in Symbolic interactionism
Arguably the biggest impact SI has had on sociology is deviance
Cooley: Looking glass self
1) People imagine how they are viewed by other people
2) How people believe others will judge them
3) We develop feelings of shame or pride.
- All of these are a guide to inner behavior and development of the self.
- Individuals use other peoples actions towards them as the mirror in which
they see themselves
- If you have a negative looking glass you are more likely to engage in deviant
behavior according to Cooley.
W.I. Thomas: The Self fulfilling prophecy
- people often become their label
- If they think they are dumb they probably will not study and therefore they will
Labeling theory focuses on those who make the labels not just those who are
Labeling has to do with societal reactions to particular behaviors and the
subsequent reaction of the labeled person to the label
Labeling is a process involving interpretation, meaning, and the attribution of
Interpretation is how a behavior is viewed, which depends on the standpoint
and the characteristics of those involved.
Meaning is important in SI, Meaning we put on people, acts and events.
Attribution categorizes people. We attribute things to people based upon their
What is deviant depends on time, place, and culture.
Deviance is not inherent according to labeling theory.
Labels stick especially if an agent of social control is the one who provides the
label. (like a doctor or a police officer) Tannenbaum: The Dramatization of Evil
- A community cannot deal with people it cannot define
- Labeling creates “kinds of people” which we then expect to behave in the
manner imputed to them
“Social Groups create deviance by making rules whose infraction constitutes
deviance. Deviance is not a quality of the act but a consequence of the application by
others of rules and sanctions to an offender”