According to the labelling perspective, deviance is something that lays focus on the tendency of majorities to label minorities negatively. It is not considered as inherent to a particular act. However, deviance is considered as a labelling that is given to the minorities who go astray from the expected standard societal and cultural norms. Deviance has to do with the labelling theory that concerns itself with the self identity and the specific behavior of people could be determined or impacted through the terms that are used to define or categorize them. It is liked to the concept of self-fulfilling stereotyping and prophecy (McLaughlin et al., 2003).
The behavior of the people who go contrary to the expectations of the society’s culture and customs is the one that is labeled deviant. Any person that goes outside the expectations of the society becomes a social misfit and thus will qualify to get a label form the society (Downes and Rock, 2003).
The community or what is commonly referred to as the majorities labels the behavior of the minority defiant. The community puts labels on the character and behavior of the people who go against the expectations of the society. Indeed, this is a social reaction and the popular definitions of crime and deviance conflict with those of the authorities. According to the labeling theory, the crime and deviance that is seen in individuals is usually done against the society and not necessarily the government authorities. It is ideally taken that the people deviate from the expectations from the society and not to the government (White and Haines, 2008).
The effects of labelling on individual have more detrimental effects than positive ones. Labelling only stigmatizes the individual in the society. It is unlikely that people will generally respond to stigmatization. An individual that has been labeled becomes a social misfit and delineates his or herself from the society. The labeled person cannot simply be found freely interacting with people within the confines of the society. This is how labelling theory affects an individual.
(a) Primary and Secondary Deviation.
Primary deviance is the kind of experience that is linked to the overt behavior in an individual. Such behaviors could be any kind of predisposition that is against the acceptable provision of the society. They may include addiction to drugs and the practical demands of the drugs as well as the consequences thereof (Downes and Rock, 2003).
Secondary deviation on the other hand is that specific role that is formed to handle the condemnation that is given by the society towards that deviant behavior (Downes and Rock, 2003).
(b) Deviancy Amplification.
Deviancy Amplification is a tendency whereby there is a focus on the negative aspects of character and behavior in deviant groups in the society. This can be done by the society even though the media plays a significant role in this. For instance, the focus on young people who put on hoods, who are occasionally linked to causing disarray and taking part in crime could be considered as Deviancy Amplification. The portrayal by the media on specific groups can even lead to moral panic amidst the members of the society which can amount to the creation of contemporary “folk devils” from those groups. These ‘folk devils’ are commonly used as scapegoat for the problems that arise within the community.
(c) Moral Panics
A moral panic is the general intensity of feeling that is expressed and shown in a population concerning a matter that apparently threatens the order in the society. Moral panics take place when an episode, a condition, group or an individual comes out clearly and the society defines them as a threat to the interests and values of the society (White and Haines, 2008). The people who start the moral panic when such fears and threats emerge in the society are referred to as moral entrepreneurs (Downes and Rock, 2003). However, the people who allegedly threaten the order in the society are commonly known as ‘folk devils.’
Moral panics are in reality controversies that involve social tension and arguments and in which discrepancy is hard since the matter is a taboo to the society (Downes and Rock, 2003). The media has been in the fore front operating as moral indignation agents. This has happened even when they are not self-consciously involved in muckraking or crusading. Just by reporting the facts is enough to arouse anxiety, panic and concern (White and Haines, 2008).
The labelling perspective has faced a lot of criticism. Labelling perspective is a perspective instead of an authentic theory that is agreed upon and widely accepted. It incorporates a huge amount of work and a lot of various foundations of theory that also includes functionalism. By functionalism, it means that the perspective lies behind the thought of the reaction by the society. The main ideas have been selected largely through the critics instead of the advocates. The concern has been raised about whether deviance is actually objective or always constructed socially. The labelers themselves appear as though they are interested on the labels, the defining characteristics, the application conditions, sources and the consequences (Lilley et al., 1995).
This is very common to the various sociological perspectives. All the same, isolated issues have been pointed out. Therefore, the interactionist elements have been attacked by the Marxists. The main item of attack has in most cases been the most difficult form of the labelling theory. Labelling is the only main variable in the deviancy construction and regardless of whether consequence is always a self-fulfilling prophecy, it is considered a vulgarization. Ultimately, most of the problems are recognized through actual authors. For instance, the situations under which labelling takes place.
The theory has been criticized for neglecting the institutional setting upon which power has been bestowed. Moreover, the labelling theory has been described as too deterministic. It is felt that social interactoionism must be defended in its definite terms so as to make the seeming mistake of avoiding the social structure is actually a reasoned anti-absolutism. Many critics wonder whether the theory should be founded on theoretical experiences or on experience (White and Haines, 2008).
The theory of labelling has the usual issue of values and definitions. This includes even those that arise from the theory’s determination to take sides and such like matters. The definition by Becker ignores the characteristics that define deviancy in favor of making a suggestion that the social interaction process is a universal procedure. This is a very general assertion although it points out some ambiguities with such categories as ‘deviant.’
All the same, many people apparently know what matters and what can be counted as deviant activity (Downes and Rock, 2003). It appears like a very abstract point of sociology and a mere literalism suggesting that murder us only what is labeled as murder. Generally, the labelling theory is criticized of having a very limited focus as it could neglect the process of becoming a deviant initially, or have only a tacit theory of basic deviance. It is also believed that labels initiate the deviant behavior and that the resulting deviant behavior is everywhere in the first place. It is also argued that this moral choice is also imperative.
Again, the social determinism of labelling theory does not make provision for resistance. Moreover, the labelling perspective ignores specific issues and parts of deviancy like violent crime, sexual activity and physical handicap. However, all these are still labeled consequently through abstract agencies and in a manner that incorporates self-reaction and social reaction (Downes and Rock, 2003).
The labelling theory neglects the power of institutions (Newburn, 2008). This is however an adamant assertion and it appears to be over-emphasizing crime yet another time. This is more in particular where there is a political definition for crime. Most of the deviants like the blind people are indeed powerless. This kind of criticism in most cases is a reflection of the differences in politics. There is evidently an anti-bureaucratic 'alienation awkwardness’ in the labelling perspective. This made the theory unfashionable. Maybe, the analysis is politically deduced and may be labelling theory operates in the confines of a societal pluralistic perception (Newburn, 2008). However, it is compatible with a stratified perception.
The labelling theory entirely rejects and ignores structure. All the same, it looks at ‘structure’ in symbolic interactionist forms and not in functionalist or Marxists ones.
From all these criticisms, it is evident that the labelling theory does not have empirical validity.
The contribution of labelling theory to criminology has had a number of detrimental effects. The effects build up from the primary deviance to the secondary deviance as explained before. When the labelling theory puts labels on these individuals, they become stigmatized. After stigmatization, these individuals end up forming sub-cultural crime groups that end up creating more moral panics to the society at large. Therefore, labeling theory does not seem to scare crime offenders. On the contrary, they ultimately become immune and resistance to the stigmatization that they have received from the community.
N.A.C.R.O. (2009) discovered that approx 80% of young men in Feltham Youth Offenders Institute commit further offence within 2 years of their release. How could this relate to labelling?
This trend takes the common feature as seen with the labelling theory. In the Feltham Youth Offenders Institute, it is evident that the society has put labels on these youths but identifying them and putting them in isolations. Regardless of whatever form of punishment they may go through, they are most likely going to commit crime on release. Stigmatization in Feltham Youth Offenders Institute will result just as is with the case of the labelling theory. Therefore, it is not a surprise that about 80% of these youths would turn to crime even after being in the Feltham Youth Offenders Institute for quite some time. Stigmatization does not really seam to solve any crime issue. It makes the culprits more resistance and soon they overcome the stigmatization and begin living with it freely and do what they want (White and Haines, 2008).