Interactionists/ labelling theories of Crime and Deviance Flashcards Preview

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Relativistic definition of deviance

Deviance refer to 'those who do not conform to dominant values'. Relativistic definitions are less concerned with why people deviate and more concerned with the construction of crime by control agencies.


Becker- deviance is a 'social construct'

No act is inherently criminal In itself. An act only comes to be deviant when it is labelled as such.


How and why do laws get made according to Becker

Moral entrepreneurs are people who lead a moral crusade to change the law in the belief that it will benefit those to whom it is applied.


New laws labelling behaviour as deviant has two effects:

1) The creation of a new group of 'outsiders' who break the rules. For example, Platt argues juvenile delinquency was originally created by Victorian entrepreneurs who aimed to protect young people at risk. This established Juveniles as a separate category with their own courts.
2) The creation or expansion of a social control agency to enforce the rule and impose labels. Becker argues that social control agencies themselves may also campaign for a change in the law to increase their own power.


Cicourel- typifications

Police officers use 'typifications'- common stereotypes of what the typical deviant is like, leading to the concentration on certain 'types'. This causes a class bias, where officers patrol WC areas more intensively since they more closely fit the police typifications


Probation officers further reinforce class bias

Cicourel found that other agents of social control reinforce these stereotypes. Probation officers held the common sense theory that juvenile delinquency was caused by broken homes, poverty and lax parenting. They therefore tended to associate such backgrounds with future offending and were less likely to support non custodial sentences for them.


Justice is not fixed, but negotiable

Working class and ethnic minority juveniles are more likely to be arrested and charged.
Middle class juveniles however are less likely to fit the typifications and have parents who can negotiate successfully on their behalf-less likely to be charged.


Crime statistics should be used as a topic, not a resource

Crime statistics recorded by the police do not give a valid picture of crime patterns. Cicourel argues that we cannot take crime statistics at face value or use them as a resource. We should treat them as a topic and investigate the processes by which they are constructed.


Lemert- the effects of labelling

Primary deviance- deviant acts that have not been publicly labelled. Often trivial and mostly go uncaught. Those who commit them do not usually see themselves as deviant.
Secondary deviance- results from societal reaction. Labelling someone as an offender can involve stigmatising and excluding someone from normal society- a deviance amplification system can then occur...


Deviance amplification system

1. The individual is publicly LABELLED in terms of their deviant behaviour
2. They are then seen by society in terms of this label and this effectively becomes their MASTER STATUS
3. The individual internalises the label which becomes part of their SELF CONCEPT
4. Living up to the label then provokes further hostility from society, which encourages the individual to join subcultures and obtain OUTSIDER STATUS
5. Although not inevitable, new deviant opportunities may arise for the individual, leading to the outcome of a DEVIANT CAREER


Young's study of hippy marijuana users can be applied to the theory of the deviance amplification spiral

Drug use was initially peripheral to the hippies' lifestyle (primary deviance), but police persecution of them as junkies (secondary deviance) led them to retreat into closed groups, developing a deviant subculture where drug use became a central activity (SFP)
The control processes aimed at producing law-abiding behaviour thus produced the opposite


Cohen's study of Folk devils and moral panics also uses the concept of a deviance amplification spiral

Media exaggeration and distortion began a moral panic, with growing public concern. Moral entrepreneurs called for a 'crackdown'. Police responded by arresting more youths, provoking more concern. Demonising the mods and rockers as 'folk devils' marginalised them further, resulting in more deviance.


The work of Cohen and Young points to a key difference between labelling theory and functionalism

Functionalists see deviance producing social control, where as labelling theorists see control producing further deviance.



The criminal justice system is increasingly less tolerant to deviance and their increased tendency to see offenders as evil combined with harsher sentences, has increased offending. Therefore to reduce deviance, we should enforce fewer rules, such as decriminalising soft drugs. This would reduce secondary deviance from occurring which would push them into further deviance



Argues that we should replace disintegrative shaming, where the crime and individual is negatively labelled and excluded from society, with reintegrative labelling, which labels the act as bad as opposed to the person who has committed it. This would avoid stigmatising the offender while at the same time helping them to recognise their behaviour as wrong.


Analysis of Triplett and Brathwaite

These theories both show how too much control on the individual amplifies deviance.


Strength of labelling theory

Shows a different perspective to Normative definitions of deviance and show how society's attempt to control deviance can backfire and actually lead to more deviance


Criticisms of labelling theory

-Recognises the role of power but fails to identify the source of this power in wider society (Marxists)
-It is deterministic- not everybody who is labelled pursues a deviance amplification spiral. It therefore overlooks the free will of the individual, ignoring the possibility that the label can be rejected (self refuting policy)
- Realist theories argue the emphasis on negative effects on labelling gives offenders a victim status.