The Labeling Theory


04/13/04


Criminology


Essay Question Fifteen


The Labeling Theory is associated with Howard Becket and was introduced in 1963. Labeling theory is the theory of deviance that views deviance as a label assigned to behavior and individuals by particular figures of authority. That means that no one is actually a deviant and no action is deviant unless specified by society. The acts that are considered deviant today, may be acceptable or even normal tomorrow or in another part of the world.


Labeling theory is somewhat of a "if the shoe fits, wear it" theory. Labeling theory suggests that: Social groups make deviance by making rules whose infractions constitute deviance and by applying these rules to particular people and labeling them as outsiders. From this point of view, deviance is not a quality of the act that a person commits, but rather a consequence of the application by others of rules and sanctions to the "offender." The deviant is one to whom that label has successfully been applied.
When a person gets caught for engaging in a particular crime, that person may begin to see their self in a negative context (just as those who label the person as delinquent see the juvenile). Labeling theory is especially crucial to understanding juvenile delinquency because it is during the time of adolescence that juvenile\'s self identities are formed. "Labeling theory also helps explain the longer-term consequences of a deviant label on a person\'s social identity" .


If a juvenile is labeled as delinquent, then their self- identity may develop as such and they will be far more prone to engaging in criminal activity. Because of a juvenile\'s negative self-concept, he or she will choose to engage in crime and associate with other delinquents.