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Labeling Theory

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Submitted By Hwitte1
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Howard Becker is noted one of the pioneers of the ‘labeling theory’. His book, ‘Outsiders’, holds a quote which is now widely used across the academic spectrum when studying labeling and deviance, “social groups create deviance by making the rules whose infraction constitutes deviance and by applying those rules to particular people and labeling them as outsiders. From this point of view, deviance is not a quality of the act the person commits, but rather a consequence of the application by others of rules and sanctions to an “offender.” The deviant is one to whom that label has successfully been applied. Deviant behavior is behavior that people so label.” (Becker 1963:8–9). This quote is used timelessly even in today’s modern world, as others try and prove if this is truly fact. If we so label a person, do they become that label? In this paper I will try to show if primary or secondary deviance play’s into the development of the deviant behavior. Edwin Lemert is probably best known for developing what is called the societal reaction approach. This approach distinguishes between primary and secondary deviance. Primary deviance is the individuals who get themselves involved in rule-breaking behavior and do not see themselves as deviant. Primary deviance arises for a wide variety of reasons, biological, psychological, and or sociological. Secondary deviance is the individuals who accept their deviant status. When a negative label gets applied to someone visibly, it powerfully becomes a part of that person's identity and that is what Edwin Lemert called secondary deviance. Secondary or intensified deviance becomes a means of defense, attack, or adaptation to the problems caused by societal reaction to primary deviation. Societal reaction is more important to study since it sheds light on things like community tolerance quotients. Societal reaction theorists...

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