Labelling theory was developed during the 1950s/60s and is closely related to interactionist and social construction theories. It is essentially based upon the reaction of societal groups to certain behaviors that are carried out. Such societal groups view these types of behaviour as deviating from or violating social norms in some way and therefore attach a label to it. The negative labels enforced on the individuals who carry out this behaviour may change how they see themselves, influence how they act, and in turn may lead to deviant behaviour being carried. According to Holdaway, S. (1988, p.44) “labelling is a process, not a direct, causal force”.
There are many sociologists who have looked into labelling theory and have given their own perspective on what they think it is. I am going to focus on the work of two sociologists in particular; Edwin Lemert and Howard Becker.
Edwin Lemert focuses on distinguishing between primary and secondary deviance. According to Lemert, E. (1951, p.75) “the deviations remain primary deviations or symptomatic and situational as long as they are rationalized or otherwise dealt with as functions of a socially acceptable role”. In terms of secondary deviance, “when a person begins to employ his deviant behaviour or a role based upon it as a means of defense, attack, or adjustment to the overt and covert problems created by the consequent societal reaction to him, his deviation is secondary”. In short, primary deviation is the initial act and secondary deviation is the public response to that particular act.
A second perspective comes from Howard Becker. According to Becker, H. (1963, p.9):
“social groups create deviance by making the rules whose infraction constitutes deviance, and by applying those rules to particular people and labeling them as outsiders. From this point of view, deviance is not a quality of the act the person commits, but rather a consequence of the application by others of rules and sanctions to an...