Labelling Theory in Explaining Crime and Deviance - A2 Sociology

729 Words Jan 25th, 2013 3 Pages
Using material from Item A and elsewhere, assess the usefulness of labelling theory in explaining crime and deviance. (21 marks)
Labelling theorists are concerned with how and why certain people and actions come to be labelled as criminal or deviant, and what effects this has on those who are labelled as such. As stated in Item A, labelling theory is focused with how individuals construct society based on their interactions with each other.
Becker emphasises the significance of crime being a social construct; an action only becomes criminal or deviant once society has labelled it so, and thus crime can be argued to be a social construction. He introduced the concept of a master label, referring to the label which a person is given which
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The labelling model in the context of mental illness is concerned with the power of some groups in society to label other less powerful groups in a negative way, and label them negatively accordingly. Szasz and Scheff argue that mental illness is a socially constructed concept which is used to explain strange behaviour. To test this, Rosenhan asked 8 perfectly normal researchers to get admitted into psychiatric hospitals, and once they were admitted, they behaved perfectly normally, but remained treated as if they were mentally ill. This demonstrates the difficulties which people face in attempting to get rid of a label once it has been given by others in society.
However, labelling theory also receives many criticisms. It tends to be deterministic, inferring that once someone has been labelled as criminal, a deviant career is inevitable, whilst also shifting blame from the individual who is committing crime. Additionally, whilst it offers a reasonable explanation as to why secondary deviance occurs, it fails to explain why primary deviance is committed in the first place, before they are labelled. An alternative explanation would be the Marxist approach, who argue that the causes of crime are not due to labelling, but due to the oppression which working class people face. They argue that capitalism is criminogenic, as the very nature of capitalism is criminal as it is based on the exploitation of the working classes. By encouraging the…