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Understanding The Role of Labeling Theory in Deviant Behavior

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Labelling theory is a sociological approach to crime and deviance that emphasises on the function of social labelling in the development of criminality and deviance. Although deviant conduct can originate from a variety of causes and conditions, once individuals have been branded or identified as deviants, they frequently confront new challenges stemming from their own and others’ reactions to bad experiences. These issues can make it more likely for deviant and criminal behaviour to become steady and chronic. 

Deviant behaviour might become a ‘method of defence, attack, or adaptation’ to the challenges caused by deviant labelling, according to Lemert. The first and more prominent theorist was Howard Becker, who published the ground-breaking work Outsiders in 1963. According to the theorist who worked on the hypothesis and theories, all humans have a conscious mind, and when we interact and engage with our brains, there is an external mind. It is thought that we all see the same things but interpret them differently. For example, when looking at an object or watching a presentation, it may appear that the same thing is being observed but it may be interpreted differently. It is believed that we all see the same things but interpret them differently. For example, when viewing an object or watching a performance, it may appear that the same thing is being observed but this may be understood differently because everyone has a different perspective on what is being shown. However, with this being stated, society has a big impact on those individuals who are being labelled, with society having a positive and negative view on individuals, this is often mistaken as human error as we all have an opinion of different situations compared with others.

Outsiders is a concept in criminology and sociology. Howard Becker’s Studies in the Sociology of Deviance is regarded as a ground-breaking research. He focuses on how police and legal experts define crime in the book. The term ‘labelling’ was coined to describe this theory. His technique went even further by demonstrating how joining a deviant subculture, such as jazz, entailed learning how to label experiences which had happened. Becker’s research focuses on how labelling has influenced crime; his work on ‘The Outsider’ revealed that those who are labelled for their crimes act deviant because society considers them to be deviant, which ties into the theory that crime and deviance are social constructs. According to Becker, people don’t regard themselves as deviants while they commit crimes; it’s only after they’ve been caught that they realise they’ve done something wrong. Once initial activity has been deemed deviate a label is attached to those that have committed the act, they label form of deviant labels such as violent thief or junkie this could be attached to an individual based upon their actions and particularly with deviant behaviours. This overrides all the characteristics of the person labelled it becomes a status and one that changes the way in which others interact with other individuals who are being labelled. Society leaves the labelled individual with little option but to gravitate towards others who had been labelled negatively and towards a deviant career, as the individual is marginalised by mainstream society. 

To end up, the strengths of the labelling theory are that is highlights the reason for deviances between different individuals. It also highlights that the law is often enforced in a discriminatory way. The weakness of the theory is once an individual is labelled as deviant, they have that label which they will carry around with them, this can cause many problems for the individual in the future as they will find it difficult to find a job and support themselves.

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Understanding the Role of Labeling Theory in Deviant Behavior. (2023, February 11). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 21, 2023, from
“Understanding the Role of Labeling Theory in Deviant Behavior.” GradesFixer, 11 Feb. 2023,
Understanding the Role of Labeling Theory in Deviant Behavior. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 21 Mar. 2023].
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