Sociology Index

Frank Tannenbaum

In dramatization of evil, Frank Tannenbaum, among distinguished sociologists, explains how a criminal is made and what causes criminal behavior. His conception led to the development of the symbolic interactionism and labeling theory used in social psychology.

Frank Tannenbaum: The Making of a Convict Criminologist - Matthew G. Yeager
King's University College at the University of Western Ontario, London, Canada
Abstract: Frank Tannenbaum is best known in criminology for his depiction of the dramatization of evil, an early precursor of labeling theory which caught on in the 1960s. Less well known is the fact that Tannenbaum was a convict criminologist.

In 1914, he served a year on Blackwell’s Island (New York City) for labor disturbances involving a group of 200 unemployed and hungry men on the lower west side of Manhattan. At that time, Tannenbaum, who was only 21, was a fledgling member of the International Workers of the World (IWW).

In 1922, Tannenbaum published Wall Shadows (Tannenbaum, 1922b) on his experiences with the American penal system. He served as the official reporter to the Wickersham Commission’s study on Penal Institutions, Probation and Parole (Volume 9) in 1931. Two years later, he published a biography on prison reformer Thomas Mott Osborne, a former warden of Sing Sing prison. This article discusses the career of Frank Tannenbaum as an early American convict criminologist, focusing on his personal papers in the custody of the Butler Library at Columbia University.