Labelling and Crime
• Labelling theorists are interested in how and why certain acts come to be
defined or labelled as cri...
Lemert- Primary and Secondary Deviance
Lemert distinguishes between primary and secondary deviance.
Primary deviance refer...
The hippies therefore began to retreat into closed groups where they began to
develop a deviant subculture, wearing longer...
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  1. 1. Labelling and Crime • Labelling theorists are interested in how and why certain acts come to be defined or labelled as criminal. • They argue that no act is inherently criminal or deviant in itself- in all situations and at all times. • Instead, it only comes to be so when others label it as such. • It is not the nature of the act that makes it deviant, but the nature of society’s reaction to the act. Becker: “Social groups create deviance by creating the rules whose infraction (breaking) constitutes deviance and by applying those rules to particular people and labelling them as outsiders” So…A deviant is simply someone to whom the label has been successfully applied and deviant behaviour is simply behaviour that people so label. (think about the man who lives alone) Cicourel- the negotiation of justice Not everyone who commits an offence is punished for it. This decision is based on a number of different factors, including their appearance, background and the circumstances of the offence they have committed. Cicourel argues that officer’s decisions to arrest are influenced by their stereotypes about offenders. For example, he found that the officer’s typifications- their common sense theories or stereotypes of what the typical delinquent is like- led them to concentrate on certain types. Working class areas and people fitted the police typifications more closely. This led police to patrol working class areas more intensively, resulting in more arrests. Consequently, their stereotypes were confirmed. Cicourel suggested that justice is not fixed but negotiable. For example, when a middle class youth was arrested he was less likely to be charged- partly because his manner and appearance were less likely to fit the typification of a criminal held by the police, but also because their parents were more likely to be able to negotiate successfully on his behalf.
  2. 2. Lemert- Primary and Secondary Deviance Lemert distinguishes between primary and secondary deviance. Primary deviance refers to deviant acts that have not been publically labelled. Lemert argues that it is pointless to try to understand the cause of primary deviance, because it is both widespread and also usually trivial (e.g. Fare dodging) and mostly goes uncaught. This type of deviance is not part of an organised deviant way of life and people don’t make a habit of it. It is often explained away as a ‘moment of madness’. Primary deviants don’t generally think of themselves as deviant. Secondary deviance is the result of societal reaction (labelling). Being caught and publically labelled as a criminal can involve being stigmatised, shamed, humiliated or excluded from society. Once an individual is labelled, others may come to see him only in terms of the label. This then becomes their master status. For example, the individual is no longer a colleague, father or brother; he is now a thief or a junkie. When this happens, the master status can help to create a self-fulfilling prophecy, whereby the individual lives up to the label they have been given. Lemert refers to the further deviance that result from acting out the label as secondary deviance. In turn, the self-fulfilling prophecy may lead to a deviant career, whereby the person who has been labelled is shunned by their family and is unable to gain work as a result of their label. They therefore turn to other ‘outsiders’ for support (which may include joining a deviant subculture), thus confirming his deviant identity. Young- Hippy marijuana users in Notting Hill Young uses Lemert’s concepts of secondary deviance and the deviant career in his study of hippy marijuana users in Notting Hill in West London. Initially, drugs were not an important part of the life of this subculture; they used them, but it did not define their identity and it was done in private- an example of primary deviance. However, once the police had persecuted and labelled the hippies as drug users, the hippies increasingly saw themselves as outsiders.
  3. 3. The hippies therefore began to retreat into closed groups where they began to develop a deviant subculture, wearing longer hair and crazier clothes. Drug use became a central activity. This therefore invited further attention from the police, thus creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. So…both of these theorists show how it is not the act itself which creates serious deviance, but the hostile reaction by the audience (who tend to be the police but could also be wider society, friends or family). Ironically, the social control processes that are meant to produce law-abiding behaviour may in fact produce the opposite. Evaluation of labelling theory: Using material from Item A and elsewhere, assess the view that crime and deviance are the product of labelling processes (21)- page 85 of the textbook. You could have a go at this if you want extra practice! Read the examiner’s advice at the bottom of the page, too.

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