Labelling theory is the theory of how applying a label to an individual influences their lifestyle, and how the social reaction to this label influences the individual.
"...social groups create deviance by making rules whose infraction creates deviance, and by applying those roles to particular people and labelling them as outsiders. From this point of view, deviance is not a quality of the act the person commits, but rather a consequence of the application by other of rules and sanctions to an 'offender.' The deviant is one to whom that label has been successfully applied; deviant behaviour is behaviour that people so label." Becker (1963)
Becker theorised that the term 'deviant' is applied when an actor (individual) violates the mores and values created by society. The label deviant is usually applied by a figure of authority or high social status, and provokes a negative social reaction. The same reaction that can be associated to an act of law breaking. Society struggles to differentiate between 'crime' and 'deviance',The two words are sometimes used interchangeably. Crime is an act that breaks 'criminal law'; resulting in formal punishment, whereas deviance is simply an act that is perceived as 'wrong'.
The issue of social power cannot be divorced from a definition of deviance, some groups in society can criminalize the actions of another group by using their influence on legislators. A Marxist would say that the laws are decided by the state, which represents the ruling class. It could be said that the ruling class set the definition of devience in order to maintain power, c...
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... a new behaviour which makes the original false conception come 'true'. This specious validity of the self-fulfilling prophecy perpetuates a reign of error. For the prophet will cite the actual course of events as proof that he was right from the very beginning.”
A functionalist such as Durkheim (1858–1917) believed that deviance was an essential part of a functional society, and that by using the term deviant we were creating our own moral boundaries. Society’s reaction to an individual that crosses these moral boundaries forces people to come together, sharing the collective view of right from wrong. The consensus of these boundaries promotes self restraint and discipline within society. Durkheim theorised that the basis of social order was the shared belief in norms and values. The absence of social order would result in anomie.
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