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Chapter 11

Crim Theory Chapter 11.docx

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SOC 2700
Scott Brandon

Crim Theory Chapter 11 Labeling Theory The Meaning of Crime - Symbolic interactionism argues that human actions are best understood in terms of the meanings that those actions have for actors - People first define the meanings of the situations they find themselves in and then act toward those situations in ways that make sense within the context of those meanings - The meanings themselves are created to some extent by the individual, but mostly they are derived from personal communications and interactions with other people - Symbolic interactionism provides a theoretical framework within which human purposes and meanings can be probed more deeply than within the relatively simply classical framework - Using a general focus on human purposes and meaning as the key to understanding the phenomenon of crime, criminologists and other social scientists have made theoretical arguments in five general areas - In the 1930s, the labeling theory focused on how and why society applies the label of criminal to certain people and behaviours and the effect that the label has on the future behavior of the person who is so labeled - This approach looks at the meaning of the label criminal in relation to the criminal’s self image The Meaning of Crime to the Self: Labeling Theory - One of the most important meanings within symbolic interaction theory is the meaning that people give to themselves – that is, their self-image - They act toward themselves according to the meanings they have for themselves - Symbolic interactionism argues that each person’s self-image is constructed primarily through social interactions with other people – what Mead called the self as a social construct and what Cooley called the looking-glass self - Tannenbaum used these ideas as the basis for a labeling theory of crime that arises from the conflicts between youths and adults in urban neighbourhoods - He argued that the youths see themselves as participating in playgroups on the streets, as they have been doing since they were children -This is their definition of the situation - But as the youths become teenagers, the playgroups increasingly engage in exciting and adventurous and dangerous and threatening activities that provoke the hostility of adults in the neighbourhood - Adults initially define the situation as good kids doing bad actions, but as the conflict between the 2 persists, adults eventually define the youths themselves as bad - The youths then begin to identify with these definitions, to view themselves as bad, and begin to act the part - Tannenbaum concluded the person becomes the thing he is described as being - Lemert presented a general theory of deviance that incorporated this basic labeling process - He argued that criminal and deviant behaviours originate in any number of biological, psychological, or social factors in the person’s life - For example, Tannenbaum had described delinquency as originating in juvenile playgroups in urban neighbourhood. Lemert called people who engage in such criminal or deviant behaviour primary deviants - This deviant behaviour then generates a negative reaction from other people, and that reaction tends to transform from a negative definition of the act into a negative definition of the person - Lemert called a person who has taken on a deviant self-image a secondary deviant - The redefinition of self opens the door to full participation in the deviant life and allows the person to make a commitment to a deviant career - At this point, Lemert argued the criminal and deviant behaviour is no longer generated by the various biological, psychological, and social factors in the person’s life, but is generated directly by the person’s self-image - Despite Lemert’s arguments, many people who commit criminal behaviours don’t think of themselves of themselves as criminals - Youchelson and Samenow found that even the most hardened, consistent offenders were unwilling to admit that they were criminals, although they could easily recognize criminality in others - Cameron pointed out that nonprofessional shoplifters often deny that their actions constitute theft and tend to rationalize their behaviour as merely naught or as reprehensible but not criminal - Cressey’s analysis of embezzlement is quite similar - Embezzlers are people who hold positions of trust and normally conceive themselves as upstanding citizens, therefore they must define their actions as only borrowing the money before they can proceed - Sykes & Matza argued that most juvenile delinquents don’t have an overt commitment to delinquent values and don’t conceive themselves as criminals - Their own delinquent behaviour contradicts their self-image, and therefore they often justify the behaviour by arguing that it’s not really criminal - Five techniques of neutralization may be used in this way - Denial of responsibility, denial of injury, denial of victims, condemnation of condemners, and appeal to higher loyalties - Police who use illegal violence justify it in terms of the need to accomplish their jobs - Illegal activities by governmental agencies may be justified in terms of national security - These examples illustrate the f
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