Crime is simply an activity that breaks the criminal law and criminals are the people who behave in this way, whereas deviance is behaviour that does not conform to a society or a group and is defined or created by the social group. The labelling theory takes a very different approach to other theories as it focuses on how and why some people and their actions come to be labelled as criminal or deviant and what effects this has on those who are labelled, whereas other theories only focus on the causes of criminal behaviour. The labelling theory is an interactionist theory as it takes the view that individuals construct the social world through their face to face interactions and crime is the ...view middle of the document...
This can provoke a crisis for the individual’s self-concept or even sense of identity. One way to resolve this crisis is to accept the deviant label they have been given and see themselves as how the world sees them, which will lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy as they are living up to their label. The further deviance that results from acting out the label is also known as secondary deviance according to Lemert. This is because secondary deviance is likely to provoke further reaction from society and reinforce the deviant’s negative deviant/criminal status; again this may lead to more deviance. For example, an ex-convict finds it hard to go straight because no one will employ him so he turns to outsiders for support, this may involve joining a deviant subculture that offers deviant opportunities and role models and confirms his deviant identity.
Young also uses the concept of secondary deviance and deviant career when studying hippy marijuana users in Notting Hill. He found that drugs were peripheral to the hippie’s lifestyle, however labelling by the police and others in society led to them being seen as outsiders. They retreated into closed groups where they began to develop a deviant subculture having longer hair and more “way out” clothes. Taking drugs became a central activity within the groups which creating further attention from the police and leading to a self-fulfilling prophecy.
However, Downes and Rock (2003) note that it is not possible to predict whether someone who has been labelled will follow a deviant career because they are always free to choose not to deviate further.
The deviance amplification spiral is a term used by labelling theorists to describe a process in which the attempt to control deviance leads to an increase in the level of deviance and have applied this concept to various forms of group behaviour. For example Stanley Cohen’s “Folk Devils” and “Moral Panics” study analysed societal reaction to the “mods and rockers” disturbances involving groups of youths at the seaside resort during eater in 1964. Press exaggeration and reports which had been distorted began a moral panic and a growing public concern. This led the police to arrest more youths while the courts imposed harsher penalties. This seemed to confirm the truth of the original media reaction and provoked more public concern, in an upward spiral of deviance amplification. At the same them “mods and rockers” were further being marginalised as outsiders resulting in more deviant behaviour.
The deviance amplification spiral is similar to Lemert’s secondary deviance idea. I both cases, societal reaction to an initial deviant act led to further deviance instead of successful control of the deviance, which in turn leads to a greater reaction.
Recent studies show that increases in the attempt to control and punish young offenders are having the opposite effect. Findings from Triplett’s study in the USA indicate that the labelling theory has important...