The labeling theory and the social control theory are two explanations behind the concept of deviance. The labeling theory argues that society itself creates deviance by classifying certain behaviors or people as deviant. The social control theory, meanwhile, believes that deviance is a result of the failure of social institutions to enforce societal norms. Labeling and Social Control Theories Every culture has norms or standards that distinguish acceptable from unacceptable behavior.
Actions or behaviors that go against cultural norms are referred to as deviance. To understand why some individuals resort to deviance, sociologists and criminologists first analyze how norms are created, modified and enforced. The labeling theory and the social control theory are just two of the explanations these experts have come up with regarding the nature of deviance. Labeling Theory The labeling theory argues that people assume deviant roles in society.
No conduct or individual is inherently deviant – society itself creates deviance by classifying certain behaviors or people as deviant. Those who observe deviant manners acquire deviant identities by internalizing deviant labels that society imposes on them. Instead of finding the root cause of deviance, society will attribute it to particular behaviors or people (Kontos and Brotherton, 2008). Proponents of the labeling theory claim that the social group is the one responsible for deviance. It creates norms in order to differentiate conventional people from deviants.
Norms, however, are detrimental in the sense that it does not recognize the difference between rule breakers or rule-breaking behavior and deviants or deviant behavior. A person is dismissed as deviant regardless of whether or not his or her actions actually violated any norm (Hamlin, n. d. ). The Stages of Labeling According to the American sociologist Howard Becker, a person undergoes three stages when he is transformed from being regarded as normal to being recognized and labeled as deviant.
The first stage is the initial “public” labeling or the informal process of labeling that eventually becomes an official definition of a person as deviant. Examples of this are the shoplifter who is tried in court and is sent to prison as a “criminal” and the drunk whom the doctor or the psychiatrist diagnoses as an “alcoholic. ” The process of labeling begins with just the doctor, psychiatrist and judge, and then finally spreads to the entire community (Slattery, 2003).
The second stage involves the official label’s overriding of all the other statuses and symbols that a person previously had. Society will severe ties with this individual and deny him or her opportunities for advancement. The father who becomes an alcoholic, for instance, ends up being divorced by his wife and abandoned by his children. The ex-convict, meanwhile, is unable to buy a house or get a job because of his criminal record (Slattery, 2003). The third stage is characterized by the label severely damaging the self-esteem of the person involved.
The “self-fulfilling prophecy” begins to take place – he or she may live up to the deviant label that society imposed on him or her by assuming a deviant lifestyle. He or she may also withdraw from “conventional” society by seeking support and status from other deviants who share similar lifestyles. An occasional drug user, for instance, may live up to his “reputation” as a junkie by going to underground bars and clubs frequented by drug addicts. The juvenile delinquent, on the other hand, may later become a professional criminal, in accordance to what society labeled him (Slattery, 2003).
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