What Can Labelling Theory Tell Us About the Establishment of Criminal Identities?

2172 Words9 Pages
Labelling theory was developed by Howard Becker, and is primarily concerned with societal reaction to crime; thus straying away from the deviant act and instead looking more closely at how and why certain people become defined as deviant. It suggests deviance is not an inherent act, but instead the result of people negatively labelling those that deviate from the norm. Edwin Lemert put forward a typology of deviance, extremely relevant in terms of highlighting labelling theory. He suggested Primary Deviance was a simple deviant act, not as a result of a label, but instead may result in a label. And Secondary Deviance, he suggested, was the idea criminality is a response to being labelled as deviant. The deviant label then becomes the individual’s master status, and the deviance is used as a means of attack, defence or adjustment to the societal reaction to the label/stigma they carry (Lemert, 1951). Social reaction is a fundamental concept in relation to crime, and changing definitions of crime are also evident; over time and between cultures, what gets labelled as a crime has shifted, highlighting cultural variations regarding what society labels as criminal. This reaction to crime may be criminogenic – meaning tending to produce crime or criminality as a result of reaction and labelling, highlighting the extent to which labelling is present in the establishment of criminal identity. Howard Becker developed his theory of labelling - also known as social reaction theory - in the 1963 book Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance. In this, he suggested ‘deviance is not a quality of the act the person commits, but rather a concequence of the application by others of rules and sanctions to an offender.’ (Becker,1966) In terms of the establishment of criminal identities, this idea would suggest it’s not a case of the motive to be deviant - one of which may be
Open Document