Labeling Theory Symbolic Interactionism Primary Deviance Secondary Deviance
Constructing Social Reality • By naming things, we create a reality • People and things become what we name them
Constructing Social Reality • The very moment that we assign names and labels to people and things, we breathe independent life into them, quickly forgetting that we created them in the first place • We project power on our creations and allow ourselves to be defined and ruled by them
Social Construction of Reality • We become convinced we are what we are named • We become convinced that others are what we have labeled them • Because the truth is that when we label, we distort reality and deceive ourselves • We no longer see the world and the person as they existed before we named them.
Labeling Theory • People are largely passive agents • We depend on what other people think about us • How do we know who we are? (smart, cute, independent, etc)
Symbolic Interactionism • There is no “reality “out there • Different interpretations of reality • People within one society can have different perceptions • People change their perceptions/attitudes
Stereotypical criminal? Cesare Lombroso (November 6, 1835 – October 19, 1909
Lombroso claimed that to the trained eye, the eye of the detective, these people would clearly be organized into categories Those in group "A" are all shoplifters, "B" are swindlers, "H" are purse snatchers, "E" are murderers, etc. And supposedly you can see a man's real character at a glance Frontispiece of Criminal Man
Power of labels • Society creates deviants through a labeling process • When we label something/someone we see them differently (a biography of a famous person is often reconstructed) • Labeled people might also see themselves differently • Resisting a label
The power of Labels: The Saints and the Roughnecks • Both groups were “constantly occupied with truancy, drinking, wild parties, vandalism” • Not one Saints had been arrested (no arrest , no negative label) (”Headed for success”) • Roughnecks had been in a constant trouble with police (“headed for trouble) • Why? (social class allowed Saints to be less visible, to be more sophisticated in interactions)
The power of label and expectations • The Pygmalion Effect (1960’s) • Teacher’s expectations influence children’s performance • 20 percents of the students were labeled “blooming” academically • A year later the same intelligence test shown that labeled students gained much more points
Labeling Theory • It's not the harm that makes an act "criminal", but whether the label is conferred on the act • The audience, not the actor, determines when certain behavior becomes defined as crime
Labeling Theory of Deviance • All people break rules and engage in deviance at one time or another • They even break serious rules for which they could be jailed (vandalism, rape, drinking and driving, tax violations) • Yet, only some people get the label of deviant...
Key Premises of Labeling Theory • Most people engage in some rule breaking behavior that falls under the category ofprimary deviance • Primary Deviance is nonconformity that is temporary, exploratory, trivial or easily concealed... This kind of deviance typically goes undetected.
Key Premises of Labeling Theory • However, the situation changes significantly if a person's deviant acts are discovered and made public • The person may then be officially labeled as "deviant" (e.g., as nut, weirdo, pervert, criminal, etc )
Key Premises of Labeling Theory • This application of a label is a crucial event A label is particularly powerful and "sticky" when applied to a person • Labels can become a "master status" - i.e., a status through which all other behavior and characteristics become interpreted • Ex-convicts rarely can find a good job or friends
Secondary Deviance • Secondary deviance is the process that occurs when a person who has been labeled a deviant accepts that new identity and continues the deviant behavior (Kendall, 1998) • Labeling someone as deviant tends to force him to identify himself as deviant and to associate with other deviants, which in turn reinforces his deviance and leads him down the path of a deviant "career"
“Naming Oneself Criminal” • Offenders differ in the way they are accounting for or casting off stigmatizing labels in the process of negotiating a favorable identity • What are those labels: drug addicts, drug dealers, criminals, prostitutes, incompetent parents.
Two alternatives • To accept the label, while refusing to endorse responsibility by providing excuses • To provide justifications and to reject the deviant label or to minimize the pejorative meaning of such labels and denounce them as meaningless lies.
First option: Accepting the label • Offenders talk about their biographies filled with instances of harsh physical punishment and extreme emotional abuse, uncaring parents unable to love their children, and domestic violence. • These autobiographical data combined to • create the nightmare that excused a life of crime, prostitution, drugs.
Common “excuses” • Offenders pointed a finger at significant figures in their life who had corrupted their way of thinking. • Usually, it was one of the parents who had sanctioned their engagement in crime and • prostitution as a legitimate money-making opportunity
Esti: a prostitute • “I became a prostitute because of my mom, because of this man, because of everything at home. No one related to me or gave a damn about me. No one respected me. I know what was warmth, love. No one ever caressed me. No one ever gave me a hug. She would only yell and curse All the time she ridiculed and humiliated me. I never knew why…”
Initiation • Constantly called prostitute, Esti decided to fulfill her mother's prophecy by incorporating this label into her own identity. Challenging her mother, she recounts how she started to enact this role: • “My mother never called me by my name. She all the time called me [whore in Whenever she saw me, even in the streets, she would yell at me Sharmouta. Sol said "I am a Sharmouta, so be it. I am a Sharmouta, and there is nothing you can do!"
Drugs • Drugs were a way to forget a terrifying childhood, for example, Esti also took drugs to repress her feelings • In so doing, offenders implicitly claim that they were not accountable for their criminal actions. • To the contrary, they were the ones who had been wronged and victimized.
Resisting Labels • Moshe argued that his involvement in selling drugs did not hurt anyone: • “I sold only grass. Those who smoke grass are not drug addicts. I believe that in the future the law will allow smoking grass. Light drugs are okay, even if they are not legal. The law is not important, what is important is that you keep control of yourself. Light drugs do not hurt you”
Resisting the label • Moti denied the harm they had caused to them as a consequence of their theft and robbery: • “I did not want to steal from people houses or pickpocket. My conscience would not let me. So I decided to go to the bank, it is the money of the government, and also of the people, but they do not have to worry about their money. If their money is stolen, the government will guarantee it”
Which label is more stigmatizing? • Female offenders were often ready to endorse the labels of prostitutes and “druggies”. Yet they vehemently resisted the psychiatrist and prison social workers label of insane • “The psychiatrist was giving me shots. He was destroying me. I wanted out! I preferred not to deal with them. If you are insane it follows you all your life! The difference between prison and psychiatry is that in prison you have a date when you come out. In psychiatry you never know you come out. God forbid! They give you electric shocks!”
Four types of citizens (Becker, 1963) • The members of society that are rule-abiding and free of labels are described as conforming citizens • Those who are labeled without breaking a rule are termed the falsely accused • Those citizens that exhibit rule breaking behavior and are labeled deviant are referred to as pure deviants • Those that break rules yet avoid labeling are called secret deviants
Dance musicians (Becker’s study) • Participant observation study of the lives of Chicago dance musicians to illustrate the social life of a deviant subculture • Although dance musicians as a group are law-abiding, their unconventional lifestyles lead them to feel as outsiders • Becker (1963) describes how being a dance musician involves a change in attitudes and opinions in order to conform to the subculture
Dance musicians (Becker’s study) • The culture of the dance musician is rich in its own language and gestures • Many of the dance musicians live a conventional family life during the day and change into their role as musician at night
Thomas Scheff’s research • Application of labeling theory is in the area of mental health • He describes how people are labeled mentally ill in order to explain certain rule-breaking behavior that society can't categorize • People labeled as mentally ill adopt the behaviors of the stereotypical mental patient as portrayed through the mass media
Thomas Scheff’s research • Scheff argues that those who express the stereotypical behavior of the mentally ill are rewarded by enterprising psychology professionals • Everybody expresses the popular symptoms of mental illness at some point in their life and labels are attached to those without power