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Evaluate the Usefulness of Labelling Theory to Our Understanding of Crime and Deviance (40 Marks)

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Evaluate the usefulness of labelling theory to our understanding of crime and deviance (40 marks)

Synopticity – Crime & Deviance and Theory

Labelling theorists such as Becker and Lemert argue that because of the diversity of different values in society, there can never be a universally agreed definition of what constitutes ‘normal’ or ‘deviant behaviour’. What is deviant for one person may not be deviant for another. Labelling theorists argue that social reactions means labels are attached to certain people. For example, studies of the media by Cohen, Young etc. indicate that media social reaction may result in groups such as gays being labelled folk devils (such as aids carriers etc.). Fundamental to labelling’s traditional belief is that negative social reaction, in the form of labelling, causes an actor to become one with the deviant activity placed upon him, and, in many cases, leads to development of further deviance. Theorists believe that the stigma people feel from this labelling propels them toward, instead of away from, future deviance.

Lemert made a distinction between Primary deviance and Secondary Deviance that labelling truly acquire prominence. Primary Deviance refers to an individual committing any norm-violating behaviour, usually without personal or social consequences. Secondary Deviation is deviant behaviour generated when one is placed in a deviant social role as a result of negative social reactions – having been processed and labelled as deviant. Once labelled, the individual incorporates this deviant identity into himself and is likely to commit further deviance – a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’.

For example, the idea of labelling has been applied in the sociology of education, where the activities of teachers in labelling certain students as ‘successes’ or ‘failures’ have been argued to be one of the most important factors in the…...

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