Labelling theory, part I
Social process theories –come in different forms like:
Social learning: DifferentialAssociation theory, Neutralization theory (techniques
that allow you to drift into criminal behaviour)
Socialization and creating social bonds: Social control theory –people with strong
attachments with social institutions are more likely to hold conventional moral
beliefs and abide by the law.
Labelling theory: social process of labelling
Societal reaction to crime and deviance –Durkheim also argues that it’s a
societal reaction that determined whether an act was criminal or not.
Durkheim would say the state was the brain of society and embodies the
collective conscience.And the state would punish those who acted in ways
that violated the collective conscience. He was also a functionalist—we
need crime and it served the function of maintaining social solidarity and
Functionalists assume societal consensus is a given and naturally exists—
but there is so societal consensus in labelling theory. In society, there is
disagreement within different groups in which moral groups should
Conflict theorists assume that there are social, economic and political
inequalities in society. Powerful social groups create and maintain a vision
of moral and social order, which is imposed on less powerful social
groups. –labelling theorists are conflict theorists—where only some
people will have power. However, according to left wing conflict theorists,
they are not critical enough.
Context of labelling theory: late 1960s US
State experienced crisis of legitimacy— the result of the failure to live up to a
promise it made up to its citizens. The gov promised to create a great society with
equal opportunities. In order to create these, the gov would eliminate poverty. The
problem was the gov did not eliminate poverty and did not give people equal
opportunities because of racism, sexism. Civil rights movements said that their
protests were policed brutally in gov responses. Like the G20 summit for
example. Citizens no longer trusted the gov. Starting premises of labelling theories
NOT cause of crime, BUT effects of deviant label—what happens to people after they
have been labelled criminal. They attempt to explain the effects of labels on a person’s
self-image and their future behaviour
Crime vs. deviance—it’s a theory about deviance as opposed to crime.All criminal acts
are deviant, but not all deviant acts are criminal. So deviance is a much broader category
Recall: positivistic theories are scientific theories that assume a singular reality naturally
Some acts and individuals are inherently criminal— this is different from
Crimes and criminals are socially constructed phenomena. They do not simply exist.
They are made through the process of labelling. –only because they have been labelled by
others as such, so they are socially constructed.
Reality is not a natural given. It needs to be constructed.
E.g. police coding practices— coded allAsians that were arrested in the city as
only Chinese. The problem is thatAsians encompass more groups of people than
just the Chinese. The police are constructing a particular reality, so their coding
works in the same way as the labelling process. This data is forwarded to the FBI
so it has consequences and justifies targeting surveillance on Chinese persons
even though they are not the only category.
There is no single, objective reality. Reality is a matter of perspective. –the police
perceive you as Chinese orAsian.
What is criminal, changes as the social context changes.
E.g. Crack cocaine (social construction of the dangerousness of crack cocaine)
1980s US: ‘crack epidemic’and ‘crack babies’– this is a socially constructed epidemic
partially by media images. In this construction, crack cocaine, was constructed as a
highly dangerous drug. And it was a drug that was constructed as being used by people in
inner city neighborhoods. If you were a crack addict, you were a highly pathological deviant. Because crack would induce you to violent and criminal behaviour.A
construction of female crack addict was pathological because she had the potential to be a
crack mother and have crack babies.
Labelling theory would say: there is nothing pathological about the baby, they are deviant
because they have been constructed as such by the media and law.And these
constructions have consequences.
American Federal Sentencing Guidelines (1986) – there is a huge difference between
charges that are laid against you against the sale and possession of powder and crack
Crack cocaine: powder cocaine = 100 : 1 ratio –will determine the sentence if you
were convicted of the sale or possession of cocaine. You only needed 1 gram of
crack cocaine to receive a 5 year mandatory sentence. In contrast, it is only
triggered if you even have 100grams of powdered cocaine. This is a problem
because both crack and powder have the same effects. In general, new borns of
crack addicted mothers, have no withdrawal symptoms. This is a construction of
harm that does not live up to scientific evidence.
5 year mandatory sentence
Holds that people communicate through symbols (e.g. gestures, signs, words, or images
that represent something else) for example the interpretation, in twilight, Edward Cullen
stalking Bella in the movie. Bella finds him to be engaging in behaviours that are
romantic. If you think this is stalking, you will go to the police, but if you interpret this as
romantic gestures, you are going to ask this guy on a date.
People interpret symbolic gestures from other people and incorporate them into their own
self-image –this has implications because we incorporate our interpretations into our own
self-image. –if you think he is a criminal stalker, then this behavioural pattern is
symbolic, you as a victim get interpreted in your self-image.
Reality is dependent on a person’s subjective interpretation of symbolic interactions.
Their interpretation shapes future behaviour. –People will also interpret labels as certain
kinds of symbolic information.
Symbolic labels—you are a student for example. Once the label is applied there are
affects. They will effect how other people will treat you. These labels don’t just describe certain traits you have, they define you as an entire person. When it comes to defining
you, that’s symbolic label becomes your master status.
Master status: deviant label comes to redefine the whole person.Asocial status
that comes to primarily identify an individual and supersedes all other status
positions (like being a friend to someone, being a nice person). People start
reacting to you on the basis of your label.
Labelling can lead to and help sustain chronic offending— Labelling theorists have
argued that these social reactions make it harder for someone that has been criminally
labeled to conform and instead might push that person into a criminal behaviour. It is in
this way that labeling can lead to and hel