Assess the Usefulness of the Labelling Theory for Explaining Crime

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H/w: “Using material from item A and elsewhere, assess the usefulness of labelling theory in explaining crime and deviance.” Labelling theorists are concerned with how and why certain people and actions come to be labelled as criminal or deviant, and what effects this has on those who are labelled as such. As stated in Item A, labelling theory is focused with how individuals construct society based on their interactions with each other. Becker emphasises the significance of crime being a social construct; an action only becomes criminal or deviant once society has labelled it so, and thus crime can be argued to be a social construction. He introduced the concept of a master label, referring to the label which a person is given which overrides all other labels. When a person is labelled as negatively, society tends to view them only as that label, and this master label often becomes internalised, and thus a self-fulfilling prophecy occurs. The person accepts their label as a criminal or deviant, and this then leads to further crime as the person attempts to live up to their label. This is similar to Cicourel’s approach to labelling. He argues that police officer’s decisions to arrest are influenced by their stereotypes about offenders. This leads to a class bias because the working class is more likely to fit the criminal stereotype; resulting in more arrests and so the strengthens the prejudice, meaning that other agents of social control within the criminal justice system also reinforce this bias. A strength to this approach is that it explains why the working class have higher crime statistics, because they are stereotyped and then begin to live up to this, which in further arrests. However, despite recognising the role of power in creating deviance, but it fails to analyse the source of this power. The effects of labelling have also been highlighted by the
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