Labelling theories of Crime


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Powerpoint containing a summary of labbeling theory in relation to crime; key words are underlined and key theorists/studies are in purple.

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Labelling theories of Crime

  1. 1. Labelling Theories of Crime By Olivia and Toby
  2. 2. The Social Construction of Crime• Labelling theorists are interested in how and why certain acts are defined as criminal; no act is inherently criminal in itself. (Killing people is not a crime if committed by soldiers in war) Howard Becker “Social groups create deviance by creating the rules whose infraction constitutes deviance, and by applying those rules to particular people and labelling them as outsiders”
  3. 3. Moral Entrepreneurs• These are the people who benefit from the creation of new laws. Becker argues that a new law has two effects;• The creation of a group of outsiders- those who break it.• The creation or expansion of a social control agency to impose labels on offenders. (i.e. Police)• Platt (1969) argues that the idea of juvenile delinquency was created by Victorian moral entrepreneurs aimed at ‘protecting’ young people at risk.
  4. 4. Who gets labelled?• Not everyone who commits an offence is punished for it (link to Marxism; selective enforcement).• Factors influencing people’s punishment:• Previous interactions with agencies of social control.• Their appearance, background and history.• The circumstances of the offence.• Piliavin and Briar (1964) found that police decisions to arrest youths were mainly based on appearance – if you’re loitering at night, dress well and you won’t get arrested.
  5. 5. Cicourel (1968)– Negotiation of Justice• Officers’ typifications (stereotypes) of what a delinquent should look like led them to concentrate on certain groups, resulting in a class bias. This in turn led to working-class areas being patrolled more frequently and even more arrests being made- a vicious circle.• Justice is seen as negotiable; e.g., if a middle class woman was caught with a joint she would be less likely to be charged with possession than a working class male youth.
  6. 6. Official Statistics• LINK TO RESEARCH METHODS• Ciroucel’s study implies that official statistics should be investigated rather than used as evidence because they do not give a valid picture of crime. This would shed light on the process of control agencies such as the police and the criminal justice system.
  7. 7. Primary and Secondary Deviance• Edwin Lemert (1951)• Primary deviance is the act which has not been publicly labelled as deviant. He argues that it is pointless to seek the causes of primary deviance as the perpetrators do not see themselves as deviant and are not part of organised deviant life.• Secondary deviance is labelled; the result of societal reaction. Those who are caught are publicly labelled and often stigmatised. Once they are labelled it becomes their master status.
  8. 8. Secondary Deviance (cont.)• A change of master status may lead to a crisis of self-identity and become a self-fulfilling prophecy, resulting in further deviance.• As a result of secondary deviance a convict may find it hard to get a job and turn to deviant subculture (Link to subcultural strain theories- functionalism) to achieve, confirming their deviant identity.• Jock Young (1971) Study of hippy marijuana users- until smoking it was made illegal drugs where only a small part of hippy culture, but they then retreated into a deviant subculture with drug use at it’s centre.
  9. 9. It is not the act which is deviant but society’s reaction to it.
  10. 10. Deviance amplification• This is the idea that attempts to control deviance only increase it; more and more control produces more and more deviance.• Stanley Cohen (1972) studied Mods and Rockers and noted press exaggeration created a series of moral panics, leading to higher prosecution levels and thus higher levels of deviance. Those at the centre of the moral panic are made into Folk Devils.• This is similar to Lemert’s idea of secondary deviance.
  11. 11. Labelling Theory and Criminal Policy.• Triplett (2000) notes an increasing tendency to see young offenders as evil and a lessening tolerance of minor offences. Offences have been re-labelled resulting in harsher sentencing.• Therefore labelling theory has important policy implications; by decriminalising ‘soft’ drugs we would decrease the number of charged offenders and the risk of secondary deviance or a deviance amplification spiral.
  12. 12. Reintegrative Shaming• Most labelling theorists see only the negative consequences of labelling although John Braithwaite (1989) identifies a more positive role. There are two types of shaming:• Disintegrative shaming- not only the crime but the criminal is also labelled as bad and is excluded.• Reintegrative shaming- Labelling only the act, not the person.
  13. 13. Continued• The policy of reintegrative shaming avoids stigmatising the offender while still making them and others aware of the negative impact of their offence. This encourages forgiveness and acceptance back into society.• Reintegrative shaming also avoids pushing people into secondary deviance.• Link to functionalism- boundary maintinence.
  14. 14. Evaluation points.• Strengths of labelling theory:• Highlights the reasons for differences in deviance between cultures.• Shows that law is often enforced in a discriminatory way.• Shows how attempts at control can often backfire.• Highlights weaknesses of official statistics.
  15. 15. Evaluation points• Weaknesses of labelling theory:• Often deterministic- not all those who are labelled continue in a deviant career.• Gives the offender a victim status and ignores the real victims of crime i.e. a rapist is not a victim!• Ignores individuals who actively pursue deviance.• Fails to explain why people commit primary deviance.• The first theory to recognise the role of power in creating deviance but fails to analyse this source, instead focusing on ‘middle-range’ officials, such as police officers.