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Labeling theory

Belongs to subject Social pathology and criminology

Labeling theory is the theory of how the self-identity and behavior of individuals may be determined or influenced by the terms used to describe or classify them. Labeling theory holds that deviance is not inherent in an act, but instead focuses on the tendency of majorities to negatively label minorities or those seen as deviant from standard cultural norms. A stigma is defined as a powerfully negative label that changes a person's self-concept and social identity. Labeling theory is closely related to social-construction and symbolic-interaction analysis. Labeling theory was developed by sociologists during the 1960s. Labeling theory is also connected to other fields besides crime. For instance there is the labeling theory that corresponds to homosexuality. He was the first to suggest that deviant labeling satisfies that function and satisfies society's need to control the behavior. The labeling theory suggests that people obtain labels from how others view their tendencies or behaviors. Labeling theory concerns itself mostly not with the normal roles that define our lives, but with those very special roles that society provides for deviant behavior, called deviant roles, stigmatic roles, or social stigma. A social role is a set of expectations we have about a behavior. Social roles are necessary for the organization and functioning of any society or group. Deviant behavior can include both criminal and non-criminal activities. Investigators found that deviant roles powerfully affect how we perceive those who are assigned those roles. The deviant roles and the labels attached to them function as a form of social stigma. Society uses these stigmatic roles to them to control and limit deviant behavior: "If you proceed in this behavior, you will become a member of that group of people.Laws protecting slavery or outlawing homosexuality, for instance, will over time form deviant roles connected with those behaviors. Deviant roles are the sources of negative stereotypes, which tend to support society's disapproval of the behavior.

According to Scheff society has perceptions about people with mental illness. Scheff believes that mental illness is a label given to a person who has a behavior which is away from the social norms of the society and is treated as a social deviance in the society. These responses from the society compel to the person to take the role of a "mentally ill person" as s/he starts internalizing the same. When the individual takes on the role of being mentally ill as her/his central identity, s/he becomes a stable mental ill person. According to Scheff hospitalization of a mentally ill person further reinforces this social role and forces her/him to take this role as her/his self-perception. Once the person is institutionalized for mental disorder, s/he has been publicly labeled as "crazy" and forced to become a member of a deviant social group. Frank Tannenbaum is considered the grandfather of labeling theory. Secondary deviation is the role created to deal with society's condemnation of the behavior of a person. With other sociologists of his time, Lemert saw how all deviant acts are social acts, a result of the cooperation of society. This work became the manifesto of the labeling theory movement among sociologists. The deviant is one to whom that label has been successfully applied; deviant behavior is behavior that people so label.

While society uses the stigmatic label to justify its condemnation, the deviant actor uses it to justify his actions. He wrote: "To put a complex argument in a few words: instead of the deviant motives leading to the deviant behavior, it is the other way around, the deviant behavior in time produces the deviant motivation.His most important contribution to labeling theory, however, was Stigma: The social construction of deviant behavior plays an important role in the labeling process that occurs in society. This process involves not only the labeling of criminally deviant behavior, which is behavior that does not fit socially constructed norms, but also labeling that which reflects stereotyped or stigmatized behavior of the "mentally ill". Labeling theory was first applied to the term "mentally ill" in 1966 when Thomas J. Scheff published Being Mentally She also claims that "people who are labeled as deviant and treated as deviant become deviant". Therefore, if society sees mentally ill individuals as unpredictable, dangerous and reliant on others, then a person who may not actually be mentally ill but has been labeled as such, could become mentally ill. Proponents of hard labeling, as opposed to soft labeling, believe that mental illness does not exist, but is merely deviance from norms of society, causing people to believe in mental illness. The application of labeling theory to homosexuality has been extremely controversial. They had observed the often negative consequences of labeling and repeatedly condemned labeling people as homosexual:

Erving Goffman and Howard Becker used the lives of gay-identified persons in their theories of labeling and interactionism. Perhaps the strongest proponent of labeling theory was Edward Sagarin. A number of authors adopted a modified, non-deviant, labeling theory. Strong defense of labeling theory also arose within the gay community. Some come to reject the label entirely. Modified labeling theory has been described as a "sophisticated social-psychological model of 'why labels matter'".

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