INUITS of Canada
• Lemert investigated the longstanding problem of
chronic stuttering or stammering among the Inuits
• He argued that this is caused by the overemphasis on
ceremonial speech making
• Failure to speak well is a source of shame and
• Children with the slightest speech difficulty became
overanxious because of peer group and parental
• This anxiety made the situation worse and led to
chronic stuttering, in other words public labelling
turned a minor problem into a major one
Primary and secondary deviance
• Edwin Lemert (1972) makes the distinction between
primary and secondary deviance.
• Primary deviance refers to acts which have not been
publically labelled. Isolated, relatively insignificant
• Secondary deviance refers to acts which have been
publically labelled as deviant and to the defiance
which is generated by this labelling. the construction
of deviant identity as a result of social REACTION to
the initial act.
To Lemert it is pointless to seek the causes of
primary deviance because it is so widespread
that it is unlikely to have a single cause, and in
any case it is often trivial. For example fare
dodging which often goes unpunished.
Offenders often rationalise their wrong-doing
with justifications like ‘everyone else is doing
it’ or ‘I had a moment of madness’ or ‘laws
are there to be broken’.....
Therefore acts of primary deviance have little
or no bearing on the individual’s status or self-
In essence primary deviants do not generally
see themselves as deviant.
The problem is of course when the deviance is
labelled, and some deviance is always labelled
Secondary deviance is the result of societal
REACTION (which is what labelling is of
Being caught and publically labelled as a
criminal or deviant can involve being
stigmatised, shamed, humiliated, shunned or
excluded from mainstream society.
Others may come to see that person only in
terms of the label.
This becomes their MASTER STATUS or
controlling identity overriding all others.
In the eyes of the world the person is no longer a
colleague, father, or neighbour...that has changed
into thief, criminal, gangster, druggie....in other
words an OUTSIDER.
This can provoke a crisis for the individual’s self-
concept or sense of identity. This may be resolved by
acceptance of the deviant label so the individual
comes to see themselves as the world sees them –
the SELF-FULFILLING PROPHECY. Now the individual
acts out or lives up to the deviant label causing
Lemert refers to the further deviance which
results from acting out the label as
In this theory then deviant identities are then
created and constructed through
INTERACTIONS between social control agents
(e.g. the police) and suspects.
Divide you into 4 groups
Junkie Paedo Area seen as
Camp Hill in
The Bronx in
CAN WE BE REALLY CLEVER AND LINK THE LABELLING PROCESS IN THESE
• Lemert’s distinction between primary and secondary deviance
• Societal reaction?
• Actions of social control agents like the police
• Self-fulfilling prophecy?
• Master status?
Studies by William Chambliss, Jock Young.
How can we link this evidence to:
• Lemert’s notion of a distinction between
primary and secondary deviance – where is
the primary deviance and secondary
• Societal reaction?
• Self-fulfilling prophecy?
• Master status?
Labelling Theory challenges traditional theories
but turning traditional ideas on their head
• Why is some behaviour defined as criminal or
deviant in some contexts but not on others?
• Why are some individuals or groups more
likely to be defined as deviant?
• How do the responses of the agencies of
social control effect individuals future actions?
• The reaction of society-the way others react
to someone labelled as deviant-may have a
dramatic effect on that person’s status and
identity and may lead to further deviant acts.
• Jock Young’s (1971) study of hippie marijuana
users in Notting Hill during the 1960s
illustrates this process.
A Based on this stereotype,
the police start to act against
hippies to control marihuana
B The hippies develop a
deviant self-concept, including
distinctive clothes and long
C A common stereotype of
drug-takers is established by
the mass media.
D Police arrest more hippies
on drug charges.
E A fantasy crime wave has
been produced because of
the increase in arrests for
F The drug squad now
become involved in further
arrests of hippies for drug-
G This reinforces the police
stereotype and leads to more
persecution of the hippies.
H The police share this
common stereotype of hippies
and label them as deviant.
I Hippies use marihuana as
a peripheral part of their
J Drug-taking now becomes a
central activity for the hippy
K The hippies respond to
this action by retreating into a
small isolated group,
Jock Young Deviancy Amplification Spiral
• C or I → C or I
• → H
• → K
• → G
• → B
• → D
• → J
• → F
• → E
There is nothing intrinsically criminal about any act, it
only becomes so when the label is tagged to it.
‘deviant behaviour is behaviour that people so label’
• Becker – saw the labelling process as creating
criminal careers. The reaction of society is crucial
here - The way others react to someone labelled as
deviant may have a dramatic effect on that person’s
status and identity and may lead to further deviant
• Societal reaction
• Self-fulfilling prophecy – the prediction becomes the truth
• Master status - status which overrides all other statuses.
The work of Lemert and Young illustrate the idea
that it is not the act itself, but the hostile SOCIETAL
REACTION by the social audience that creates serious
Ironically therefore the social control processes that
are meant to produce law-abiding behaviour may in
fact produce the very opposite.
Note the last concluding line in Chambliss’s study
The Saints and the Roughnecks
“….One lesson is inescapable: The less the
intervention in the minor crimes of juveniles the
better off they and society will be.”
FREE WILL / NOT DETERMINSTIC
Labelling theorists are well aware that they can be
accused of being deterministic (those labelled will
inevitably become more criminal and/or deviant) and
that their theories might offer a form of excuse for
nasty crime. That is why they are keen to stress that
there is nothing inevitable about the labelling
process. Downes & Rock (2003) argue that we can
never predict whether someone who has been
labelled will follow a deviant career because they are
always free not to deviate further
TASK: write down two ways in which a person might
resist, reject or throw off a label