SOC 2700 Chapter Notes - Chapter 11: Five Techniques, Shoplifting, Embezzlement

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27 Nov 2012
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
- 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
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