Topic 2 Essay Sociology
Using material from item A and elsewhere, assess the view that crime and deviance are the
product of using labelling processes (21 marks)
Some sociologists believe that the initial cause of crime and deviance is attaching a definition or
meaning to an individual or group of individuals, due to their ethnicity, social background, or gender.
Many sociologists argue that no act is criminal in itself, however it only becomes criminal when
others label it so. The labelling theory tends to look more at societies reaction to the act rather than
the nature of the act. Lemert says that it is ‘pointless to seek the causes of primary deviance’- ...view middle of the document...
He found that if an individual is negatively labelled from the offset, it could push them towards a
deviant career. This could indicate that crime and deviance could be the product of labelling
processes, forcing an individual into a self-fulfilling prophecy that could be difficult to relieve
New right sociologists could argue that criminals are not those of victims, however the life of crime
and deviance that they live is a ‘life choice’. When evaluating the labelling theory, there could be said
to be strong emphasis on giving the offender a victim status, ignoring the real victims of the crime.
This point could show that crime and deviance is the product of using the labelling process.
Becker uses the labelling theory in his research, focusing on how and why some people’s actions
come to be labelled as criminal or deviant, and the effects this could have on the individual. He
argues that deviance is ‘in the eye of the beholder’. This means something only becomes deviant
once it is labelled as such. This could show that labels are self-inflicted on the individual, after the
criminal or deviant act is committed. The work of Young and Lemert shows that is it not the act itself,
but the social reaction to the act that initiates the labelling processes.
The labelling theory was the first to recognise the extent to which power is used in society to create
deviance. However, a criticism of the labelling theory is that it fails to analyse the source of this