Labeling theory arose from the study of deviant behavior in the 1950's and 1960's and was a rejection of consensus theory or structural functionalism. Labeling theory or social reaction theory, focuses on the linguistic tendency of majorities to negatively label minorities or those seen as deviant from norms. The theory of symbolic interactionism has the closest affinity with labeling theory. and symbolic-interaction analysis.
Labeling theory or social reaction theory is closely related to social-construction of reality. Labeling theory is concerned with how the self-identity and behavior of an individual is influenced by how that individual is categorized and described by others in their society. Labeling theory theorist, Frank Tannenbaum's main concept was the dramatization of evil.
Tannenbaum's Labeling theory argued that the process of tagging, defining, identifying, segregating, describing, and emphasizing any individual out for special treatment becomes a way of stimulating, suggesting, and evoking the very traits that are complained of. Under Labeling theory a person actually ends up becoming what he is described as being or what he is labeled as.
Labeling theory or social reaction theory is concerned with how the self-identity and behavior of individuals may be determined or influenced by the terms used to describe or classify them, and is associated with the concept of a self-fulfilling prophecy and stereotyping.
According to labeling theory deviance is not inherent to an act. Labeling theory focuses on the tendency of majorities to negatively label minorities or those seen as deviant from standard cultural norms.
Attention is now being devoted to informal labeling theory, like labeling by parents, peers and teachers. Informal labeling has a greater effect on subsequent crime than official labeling.
The main idea of looking glass self is that people define themselves based on how society perceives them. Charles Horton Cooley's concept of the looking glass self is very important to labeling theory and its approach to a person's acceptance of labels as attached by society.
Lemert was as the founder of the "societal reaction" approach and social reaction theory. "societal reaction" approach distinguishes between primary deviance (where individuals do not see themselves as deviant) and secondary deviance (where individuals accept a deviant status).
Societal reaction theorists claim that the process of defining and suppressing deviance is vital to social solidarity.
According to labeling theory, informal labeling is also influenced by the delinquent behavior and by the position enjoyed by the individual in society. Informal labels affect individuals' subsequent level of crime by influencing their perceptions of how others see them.
These approaches to deviance assumed that deviance could be understood as behaviour that violates social norms.
Labeling theory rejected this approach. Law is culturally and historically variable. What is crime today was not necessarily crime yesterday and may not be crime tomorrow. Labeling theory deviance is not something inherent in the behavior, but is an outcome of how individuals or their behavior are labeled.
Labeling offenders as criminals has its negative consequences, aggravating the criminal behavior and making the crime problem worse. Criminal justice system could be casting the net of social control too widely. Net-widening is inherently criminogenic. Being a criminal becomes a person's master status controling the way they are identified in public.
Labeling theorists therefore are critical of conceptions that crime is behavior that violates criminal law. Crime varies from situation to situation, across time and place. Called the symbolic interactionism viewpoint, crime is defined by reference to the symbols and meanings that people communicate to one another.
Becker coined the term "moral entrepreneur" to describe individuals who lead campaigns to outlaw certain behaviors by making them "criminal." Labeling theorists believe the system exercises a lower-class bias in rounding up offenders.
An Empirical Test of
Labeling Theory Using Longitudinal Data -
Melvin C. Ray, William R. Downs
Social Control in China:
Applications of the Labeling Theory and the Reintegrative Shaming Theory -
Xiaoming Chen, Law School of Xiamen Univ, Xiamen, Fujian.
CRITICAL ASSESSMENT OF LABELING IN
THE JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM