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Labeling Theory Of Deviance Essay

Various theories have been put forward to explain the causes of crime and delinquency in society. The Labelling theory of crime argues that the tendency to perceive and treat people as offenders precipitates their engagement in crime. It is based on the hypothesis that people will assume the labels that they have been given to them by the society. Labelling in this case works to reinforce deviant behaviour as well as solidifying the deviant identities in the society. In other words labelling people as criminals plays a significant role in increasing or rather causing crime in the society. (Burke R,2005).

As Tannenbaum, an early sociologist supporting the labelling theory of crime argued that the process of tagging, defining, identifying, segregating, describing and emphasizing that certain individuals as deserving special treatment is a way of stimulating, suggesting, suggesting and evoking the traits being complained of makes people become what they are described as being. Symbolic interactionalism is based on the agency analysis of deviance and social control. In this case deviance is viewed as a label which is imposed on the subjects who after rejecting or accepting the labels construct deviant identities as well as careers.

To change such a situation the need for radical transformation is more of a necessity than a requirement. Labelling theory of crime can be blamed for the increased instances of crime as the criminal justice system tries to curb it. People who are arrested, prosecuted and punished are labelled as ‘criminals’ and the society deems them as such. A large proportion of the society also joins hands in labelling them as such and this increases their tendency to indulge in criminal behaviours.

When people are labelled as criminals it is difficult for them to effectively adjust into the society and for instance they may fail to obtain legitimate employment, a factor that increases their likelihood to indulge in crime. (Burke R,2005). They may also face isolation from the mainstream society and this could trigger psychological problems which are highly correlated to criminality. When the labelled criminals internalize the self concept that they are criminals they tend to increase criminality behaviours as after all they are perceived as criminals and should behave as such.

(Coser L, 2006). Offenders ought to be treated as sick characters to make it easier for the criminal justice system to offer best treatment for ease reintegration into the society. This way the stigmatization would be dealt with amicably. Labelling could occur from the society as a whole or the system, family, among peers as well as in schools from teachers. Labelling in crime tends to be more frequent or intense among the minority groups whose voice is almost insignificant in society.

How a society reacts after it has labelled criminals is what determines if a crime is to dwindle or intensify. Societies that labels criminals and for a long term reject them in the society increases their likelihood to commit crime while the society that tries to assist the labelled criminals to effectively integrate into the society reduces the rates of crime that could have been attributed by labelling. Erving Goffman is among the sociologists whose ideologies could be useful in explaining the labeling theory of crime. He is popular for the notion of total institutions.

He defined ‘total institutions’ as places of residence and work where a large number of like-situated individuals are cut off from the wider society for an appreciable period of time. Together these people lead an enclosed formally administered round of life. Goffman further highlighted the discrepancies between those who reside in the total institutions and those in the larger general population. In the larger population man works, plays and sleeps in varying places, with varying people, different authorities and in the absence of an overall rational plan.

(Hawkins J and Kirkland F, 2001). This is contrary with the scenario in the total institutions where there are barriers between those three aspects. Life in the total institutions is clear or definite and this creates the notion that they exist for a good reason among the general population. There is no freedom in the total institutions as is experienced in the ‘home world’ or the general population. To Goffman the inmates being sent to prisons or total institutions already know the culture they are to expect though the reality is actually felt or experienced after admission.

(Hawkins J and Kirkland F, 2001). Goffman identified three major phases in the life of an inmate. The first one is before they get into the total institutions that is when they are still in the ‘home world’, when they in the institutions and when they re enter the home world after release from the total institutions. He focused on the similarities that exist in the varying institutions. He argues that all aspects of life are conducted in the same place and under the same or a single authority. This means that all prisons will have similar experiences.

All these aspects were carried on in the immediate company of a large batch of others all of whom were treated alike and needed to do the same things together. Another observation made was that all phases of a day’s activities were to be tightly scheduled and one activity led at a pre-arranged time to the next. (Willcocks D, Peace, S and Kellaher l, 1987)Notably, the whole sequence of activities was imposed from a higher system of explicit formal rulings and a body of officials a clear indication of alienation and dominance within the total institutions.

The various enforced activities are brought together into a single rational plan which is designed to fulfill the official aims of the institution. The roles that are performed by the inmates in the total institutions serve interests or are for the aims of the institution rather than the individual. Goffman identified four major dimensions of institutional life ranging from the rigidity of the routine, block treatment of inmates, depersonalization of inmates and social distance between the staff and the inmates which Goffman termed as binary management.

(Willcocks D, Peace, S and Kellaher l, 1987) Before one gets into prison they are from the ‘home world’ where they already have an established conception of themselves. Entrance into the ‘total institutions’ strips them off the benefits attached to the’ home world’. Here, they are subjected to a series of abasement, degradation and humiliation. The consequence of this is that their self becomes horrified. When in the institution an individual develops a moral career which is determined or influenced by his surrounding. The role of the significant other becomes critical at this point.

Goffman observed further that in the total institutions the process by which individuals were mortified was rather standard across all of them. This is a clear indication that life in these institutions is quite different from that which is experienced in the larger world and that it is a difficult task to have inmates maintain the same traits they had before they got there. (Willcocks D, Peace, S and Kellaher l, 1987). Again, since the conditions were similar across the total institutions they were likely to exhibit similar traits.

The first restriction of the self for the inmates takes place when the total institutions act as a barrier between the inmate and the general population. In the civilian life one’s sequential roles are not in conflict with one another and so no roles hinders or rather blocks the performance of the others regardless of how frequent they were. Life in the institutions is in such a manner that role scheduling is disrupted as the inmates do not dictate what to do and when to do it. In other words they are denied the freedom to decide what role to perform and at what time.

Instead there are round the clock surveillance where orders given are to be followed to the letter. In addition to the role scheduling being disrupted in the institution, role dispossession also takes place, Visitors are restricted and one is also restricted from frequenting places they initially did. Depending on whether the entrance into the total institution was voluntary or involuntary entry to such institutions somehow prepares the individual to withdraw from ‘home world’ or from the general population. (Willcocks D, Peace, S and Kellaher l, 1987).

This preparation makes the adaptation in the new environment easier. Involuntary entry into the total institutions is however different as one may not be prepared for the new kind of life. Inmates may find themselves perform some roles that they learnt in the institutions on return to the general world. All the same there are certain houses that will have to be incurred or faced for instance the time for education or parenting. There is also the loss of legal privileges for instance one may not be in a position to attend to court proceedings on matters that affect them directly for instance adoption of a child.

These privileges may be short term they maybe enjoyed on the completion of the term. However there are others with long term ramifications. The realization that one has not lost certain rights due to the barrier between him and the outside world may not auger well with him. There are other challenges that the inmate faces on return to the society. For instance there are the admission requirements where certain standards have to be followed or adhered to.

On entrance to the total institutions various losses are incurred as for instance one may lose their hair, their identity as they are assigned numbers, they undress and change their clothes and are given institutional uniforms, they list their possessions, have to adhere to the rules and they are also assigned to certain quarters where they are to reside. According to Goffmann’s findings the society is to blame for deviance within it as it subjects people it terms as wrong doers into harsh conditions and expects them to reform.

(Willcocks D, Peace, S and Kellaher l, 1987). In the book the ‘Myth of mental illness’ Thomas Szasz argued that mental illness was a myth. To him, the whole idea or notion of psychiatric illness could be termed as ‘scientifically worthless and socially harmful’. (Shorter E, 1997). There are similarities between goffman and szasz ideologies. Goffman backed Szasz when he made the conclusion that the mental health institution he studied could be defined as a ‘total institution’ where ‘the closed system infantilized the patients and restricted their lives’.

Goffman noted that the clear difference between the staff and the patients and on entrance to the institutions the patients faced humiliation, degradation, abasement and profanations of the self’. Goffman rejected the idea of prisons and mental health institutions which according to him robbed off the inmates their time. The ‘sentence’ denied them living. The aspect of alienation is clear when the use of power is used by the staff members against the ‘patients’. He condemned the pretence by the staff members that they were out to assist the patients and dismissed it as a mere ’power grab’.

(Shorter E, 1997). Szasz argued that although psychological disorders are real, defining them as diseases was a way of imposing coercion in the society. He argued that defining such disorders as illness when they had no correlation with physical sickness was untrue. The only relationship existing between mental disorders and physical illness was the fact that they both made the individual unable to handle their daily activities or duties. (www. mdx. ac. uk). The psychological disorders according to Szasz were brought about by man.

He further noted that compulsory psychiatry is a crime against humanity and it undermines freedom in the society. He quoted Mill to justify his observation that ‘the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community against his will is to prevent harm to others. His own good either physical or moral is not sufficiently warranty’. However unlike Mill, Szasz offered or rather provided no exception where power could be used forcefully.

He advocated for freedom where all individuals are given the chance to choose what they find best for them. Although the compulsory psychiatry may not be harmful to the patients Szasz argues that it is not compatible with a free society. (www. mdx. ac. uk). He further advocates for the application of universal law which is not discriminative to anyone in the society. The same law applied to those termed as insane ought to be the same applied on those viewed as insane. Treating people otherwise is unfair as it implies that there is no equality and they are treated as special beings.

Any form of special treatment on the allegations that one is mentally sick is unfortunate as it treats them as less human beings. (www. mdx. ac. uk). References: Anthony Clare and Peter Sedgwick. Mental Health and Civil Liberties. A theoretical contrast of Thomas Szasz. Retrieved on 5th march 2009 from http://www. mdx. ac. uk/WWW/STUDY/mhhlib. htm#SzaszMyth Dianne M. Willcocks, Sheila M. Peace, Leonie A. Kellaher. 1987. Private Lives in Public Places: A Research-based Critique of Residential Life in Local Authority Old \ People’s Homes. Taylor & Francis Publishers.

Edward Shorter 1997. A History of Psychiatry: From the Era of the Asylum to the Age of Prozac. John Wiley and Sons Publishers John Palmer Hawkins and Faris Kirkland. 2001. Army of hope, army of alienation: culture and contradiction in the American Army communities of Cold War Germany. Greenwood Publishing Group Tim Jordan, Steve Pile, 2002. Open University Social Change. Blackwell Publishing, Lewis Coser. 2006. Crime Theories and the Field of Criminology. Retrieved on 4th march 2009 from http://www. apsu. edu/oconnort/1010/1010lect02. htm.


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