The Labeling Theory, Research Paper Example
Words: 2616Research Paper
How effective is the Labeling Theory when it comes to Juveniles?
Cooley gave credence to the Labeling Theory in his book “Human Nature and Social Order” written in 1902, when he describes the personal perception one has of himself after conducting studies on children and their imaginary friends, and conclude after further developing the concept, that people imagine the views of themselves through the eyes of others within the social circles, and form judgments of themselves according to society perceptions of them (Becker, 1963).
The concept of labeling theory implied in the statement, was also developed by the works of Tannenbaum, Mead, and Lermet among others, before Becker, who has received the most credit for the theory made his contribution (Becker, 1963).
According to Rosenheim, Zimring, Tanenhaus, & Dohrn (2002), generally speaking, theories in criminology have been dominated by sociological theories of crime, with the central idea that crime is as a result of social forces that are external to individual. Rosenheim et al. (2002) further stated that traditional criminology leads one to think in terms of theories like disorganization theory, social control theory, cultural deviance theory and last but not least labeling theory.
Labeling Theory or Societal Reaction Theory, according to Rosenheim et al. (2002), focuses on behaviors that are classified as deviant, criminal or delinquent, on what groups are selected for labeling, as well as the consequences of the labeling process, while Tannenbaum (1938) drive to the core definition and its effect upon victims and members of society as well as how to avoid it forcefully, when he stated that it is the process of making criminal, tagging, segregating, defining, emphasizing, and making conscious and self conscious.
The Law Professor went on to say that the theory produces a way of stimulating, suggesting, emphasizing and evoking the very traits that are complained of, and the harder those who work to punish or reform victims, the greater the evil becomes under their hands, He suggested that the only way out is a refusal to dramatize or speak about it (Tannenbaum, 1938).
The labeling theory, according to Demento (2000) focuses on the reaction of other people and the subsequent effects of those reactions created deviance, which when exposed caused the victims to be segregated from society and given labels such as thieves, whores, junkies, abusers, and like. The process is systematic according to Demento (2000), because it creates a group of outsiders who are seen as outcast from society and in association with each other respond to the same label place on them and expected from them by the more established members of society,
Labeling theory produces deviants of two different categories, which seems harmful to an extent societally, but deviance is seen differently by Emile Durkheim, who remark that it may seem harmful but is an integral part of society and serve four major functions, namely it affirms cultural values and norms, it clarifies moral boundary, promotes social unity, and encourage social change, according to Maconis and Gerber (2010).
Lemert however, defines the critical distinction between societal reaction, primary deviance and secondary deviance in his book “Social Pathology” (Rosenheim, et al, 2002), and the relevance of the latter two will be examined in light of the American Juvenile Justice System, to see how effective is the labeling theory towards juvenile.
Social deviance among juveniles according to Kassam (2005), starts at the school age, and at this stage delinquency is expressed in the form of abuse of school rules such as truancy, smoking, and vandalism. According to Kassam (2005), the absence of effective measures to curb and overcome these problems provides a catalyst to more serious criminal conducts like theft, rape, drugs abuse, selling of drugs, bullying, and even murder. At this early stage the labeling theory process also starts in the schools as well as in the respective communities where these juveniles reside.
Primary deviance behavior according to Rosenheim, et al. (2002). is characterize as the initial norm violation that is not responded to by the agents of social control, and is given little significance to the rule –violator, while secondary deviance is the deviation that occurs in response to societal reaction, and is in accordance with the view of self as deviant.
Light is shed on the secondary deviant by Lemert, according to Rosenheim et al (2002), when he emphatically stated that when a person begin to employ his or her deviant behavior or role based on upon it as defense, attack, or adjustment to overt or covert problems created as a result of societal to him or her, this deviation is secondary, and can only be understood from a criminal or deviant perspective by the use of social control.
A distinction between these two types of deviant behavior by juveniles and others was not made clearer by in terms of the effectiveness of the labeling theory by the arguments purported by multiple factor theory, according to Rosenheim et al. (2002).
This approach was the dominant criminology paradigm in the first part of the century, and hadutilized a series of biological, physiological, and sociological factors that might help to distinguish between offenders and non-offenders (Rosenheim, et al. 2002). A defining argument from this approach is that there is no single cause or risk factor for the prevalence of crime and violence, and it is through multiple pathways that these events occur.
The view seems opposite to the theoretical beliefs underlying the second dominant strand regarding crime and criminologyand in particular the labeling theory according to Rosenheim et al.2002). Primary Deviance according to Futcher and Scott (2007) is a behavior that runs counter to the normative expectation of a group and is recognized as deviant behavior by the group, but is tolerated as normal or as an aberration by them. Members of the group according to Futcher and Scott (2007), simply regard the behavior with little significance, as a permissible departure from an otherwise normal person, and as an act that most likely will never be repeated.
Behaviors such as aggressive display by a child who is under stress, a naughty attitude by an individual that is overly tired, and a woman behaving odd at special time of the month or a man exposing himself due to a black out experience may be seen as primary deviance according to Futcher and Scott (2007).
However, secondary deviant behavior among individuals will be perceived and labeling applied, when those behaviors are no longer seen as normal, but are stigmatized and punished in some way based on public opinion, law enforcement agencies, and administrative agencies control executed by welfare and other agencies (Futcher &Scott, 2007).
Individuals, especially juveniles who are labeled as thieves, welfare fraudsters, junkies, and many other labels which all serve to stigmatize them and then forces them to cope with the consequences of such classification. According to Futcher and Scott (2007), these individual and juveniles in particular will suffer rejection, segregation, degradation, coercive treatments, incarceration, exclusion, and other punishments which are aimed at helping them to change their ways, while primary deviants doing the same things may be treated differently by the social groups in their specific locale.
The labeling theory in this regard, should be deemed as ineffective in that different rewards, benefits and punishment are meted out to individuals due to the perception of the social group and not by any objective standards.
It could be argued that juveniles cannot be properly evaluated under the Labeling Theory, because of the effects of stigmatization, which according to Gofman; its creator, it is social reaction that picks out a particular characteristic and uses it to devalue a person’s whole social identity, according to Futcher and Scott (2007),
Historically, the term was applied to people with disabilities, but has now taken on wider applications which include people regarded as abnormal and unusual, and are grounds for exclusion and denigration.
In Great Britain for example, the labeling theory has produced growing evidencethat juvenile and adults minorities have become involved in legal system, to the point where they are more likely to be offenders and police suspects rather than victims, according to Futcher and Scott (2007).
However, credible statistical research regarding housebreaking and other household crimes has shown little variation across all ethnic groups, but African Caribbean’s, because of their location in inner cities were found to be at least twice likely to be victims of crimes, rather than offenders, according to Futcher and Scott (2007), and as such provide evidence of the ineffectiveness of the labeling theory when applied to juveniles from socially disadvantage minority groups.
Secondary deviant behavior according to Lemert, can be destructive to society because as a negative label, when it is powerfully and publicly applied, it becomes a part of its victims identity, and they will then employ defensive, attacking or other adjustments, to the problems have created by social reaction against them (Futcher and Scott, 2007).
Crime, violence, destruction of property and other activities by juveniles, are seen as by- products of the labeling theory being applied to these individuals by social groups that are in position to enforce their norm regarding what is primary and secondary deviantbehaviors, and is further proof that the labeling theory is far from effective, in terms of rehabilitating groups regarded as delinquents in certain societies.
The problem is exacerbated when the 1950 work of Becker (1963), “The Outsider “ highlights the fact that in situations where labeling theory prevails and there a few moral entrepreneurs who are people who take the lead in getting the negative labels changed, juveniles and others that are stigmatized, have very little opportunity to recover from societalnegative perceptions of them.
Becker (1963) cited an example of the smoking of marijuana as secondary deviant behavior. When these individuals are caught and prosecuted, labels are applied to them as a result of the combined powerful efforts of the Treasury Department and the FBI, both of which have the financing and legislative clouts to ensure societal perceptions are effective against these victims.
The labeling theory in this regard lacks credibility and effectiveness in that, despite the opinion of the masses, these two government groups are able to use their influence to ensure the juveniles they regard as secondary deviants, becomecareer deviants such as criminals, drug addicts, pimps among others, at the expense of incarceration and other financial cost to prosecute, train, feed, clothed, provide health services and rehabilitate them.
According to Working Parents (2011), the labeling efforts of the Treasury Department and the FB against marijuana users, have produced 24.8 million American children between 12 and 17 years of age who are smokers of marijuana, and 15% of this amount uses the drug on a monthly basis.
Becker in his presidential address to the Society for the Study of Social Problems, highlighted the ineffectiveness of the labeling theory and the inherent danger in its application, when he remark that the persons who are considered deviants are actually victims more sinned against that sinning (Hamlin. J., N.D.)
Labeling can also be a producer of high levels of unemployment and criminal activities as well as very low self esteem in societies where it is very pronounced, as according to studies conducted by Schwartz and Skolnick, legal stigmas applied to legally accuse individuals, affect their chances of employment, causes loss in social status, and bring on further contacts with law enforcement agencies, according to Hamlin (N.D).
In a similar vein, those people who are being sinned against by the more influential and respected social audience that classifies them as secondary deviants, Jackson, Chirieos and Waldo in their studies found that persons with previous criminal records were regularly treated differently, and such actions caused them to become driven to transform their identities and become career deviants, according to Hamlin (N.D).
The ineffectiveness of the labeling theory was also brought out by the works of Robin and Cameron. In the case of the former, the book “Deviant Children Grow Up”, it was enunciated that the impact of children that were previously labeled as mentally ill or having some sort of psychiatric disorder, was of no consequence when they became adults. Robin found in the research that only 16 % those studied had some sort of connections to the negative labels that were previously applied to them (Hamlin, N.D.).
In the case of Cameron, his study purported that juveniles and other adults that were caught shoplifting and labeled as thieves, actually changed their behaviors as secondary deviants in order avoid becoming career deviants (Hamlin, N, D). These victims were somehow motivated to change their ways and become normal citizens in the a society that had stigmatized them as outcast, but this was only one study and may not serve to effectively change the social reactions of more widespread audience, but points to the fact that societal labeling theory has imperfections in their applications.
The effectiveness of the labeling theory however, has a long way to go, when comparisons are made with the number of secondary deviants who changed their image and the amount of juveniles now incarcerated. According to Watson (2005),in 2005 there were 100,000 juveniles incarcerated in 2005, and between 1999 and 2000 the murder rate decreased by only 2.9%, but one in four of those convicted were remanded in adult courts, because they were convicted of felony murders in which teens participated in robbery or burglary during which the co-participants committed murder without the knowledge or intents of the teens.
The secondary deviance label on the hardened criminals it would appear seems to be transferring to the juveniles at a dangerous rate within the prisons and in the wider society.
The propensity of the Labeling theory, with respect to its application to primary and secondary deviants , to produce mixed results in terms of the final status of the victims, points to its ineffectiveness as a theory of relevance and importance in the present society, and invite objective re-visitations and assessments regarding the merits of the multiple factor theory, which its advocates portends that there are no single cause or risk factor for crimes and violence, but it is through the medium of multiple pathways these deviant behaviors do occur.
This multiple factor theory, if marketed properly beginning at the earliest stage possible which is in the schools, to achieve the desired level of education of these targeted audience, may in the final analysis reduce the power, influence and effectiveness of the social reactors who are responsible for deciding who gets labeled as primary or secondary deviants, and simultaneously reduce the number of juveniles who are helplessly stigmatized and driven to become the career deviants that they are perceived to be in the wider society.
However, it may take several years, the expenditure of millions of dollars, ethical revaluation, timely cost benefit analysis, skilful and incisive communications apparatus, deep seated commitment by governmental agencies with influence and power and the involvement of moral entrepreneurs across the all societal strata to effectively socialize society in embracing this new theory.
Becker, H. (1963). Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance Howard Becker Labeling Theory www.crimimnology.fsu.edu/crimtheory/becker.htm , 11/15/11
Demelo, D. (2000). Criminological Theory: Labeling Theory Criminological Theory on the Web www.umsl.edu/~keeler/200/diane_demelo/diane.pdf , 11/18/11
Fulcher, J., Scott, J. 2007). Crime and Deviance: Understanding Deviance and Control Oxford University Press London UK www.oiup.com/uk/orc/bin/9780199285006/fulcherandscott_ch07.pdf , 11/17/11
Hamlin, J. (N.D). Labeling Theory (Societal Reaction Theory) Department if Sociology and Anthropology University of Minnesota Duluth www.d.umn.edu/cla/faculty/jhamlin/2311/labeling%20theory.pdf , 11/17/11.
Kassam, A W.B. (2005). Juveniles on Remand: Trends and Practices in Malaysiawww.unafel.or.ip/english/pdf/RS_No.68/No.68_17PA_Kassam.pdf , 11/18/11
Maconis, J.L., Gerber, L.M.M (2010). Deviance Chapter 9 Sociology 5th edition Pearson Education www.wps.prenhall.com/ca.ph_maconis_sociology_5/23/6031/1543987.cw/index.html , 11/17/11
Rosenheim, M.K., Zimring, F.E., Tanenhaus, D.S., & Dohrn, B., (2002). A Century of Juvenile Justice University of Chicago Press, Chicago Ill
Tannenbaum, F. (1938). Crime and Community Ginn Boston MA
University of Minnesota Duluth (2011) Labeling Theorywww.d.umn.edu/~bmark/2306/theories/BAMlabeling.htm , 11/17/11
Wilson, D. (2005). Record numbers in prisons International Committee of the Fourth International www.wsws.org/articles/2005/nov2005/pris-no5.shtml , 11/18/11
Working Parents (2011). Marijuana Data Analyst New York NY www.catalyst.org/file/431/eft_working_parents.pdf , 11/17/11
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