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Critically assess labelling theories contribution to the sociological understanding of crime and deviance. This question includes assessment of connections between crime and deviance and social theory.

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Introduction

Critically assess labelling theories contribution to the sociological understanding of crime and deviance. (40) This question includes assessment of connections between crime and deviance and social theory. Becker is the main sociologist studying labelling theory on deviance, he argues that 'social groups create deviance by making the rules whose infraction constitutes deviance.' Meaning acts only become deviant when observers perceive it and define it as deviant. An example of this would be the act of nudity, it is accepted in the bedroom between husband and wife or on a nudist camp, but when a stranger was to enter the bedroom, or someone was to streak across a sporting event, others would usually see this as deviant, and this deviancy would become a label on the individual. Several factors affect what the audience would perceive as deviant, such things as, who commits the act; when and where it is committed; who observes the act; and negotiations between those in the act. It is often those who respond to the acts who label the act deviant rather than the behaviour of the individual. To stress this, Becker uses the example of a brawl between youngsters, in a working-class area police would see the act as sign of delinquency whereas if it was to occur in a wealthy neighbourhood it would just be classed as youthful high spirits. ...read more.

Middle

* Moral panics, Stan Cohen studying youth subcultures, specifically 'mods' and 'rockers' looked at how the media concentrated on building these groups up into trouble makers due to lack of stories, because of this attention people started to decide if they were mods or rockers and accentuated the violence that took place between them. This case of moral panic can also be seen in Hall's study of mugging. Labelling theorists studying mental illness claim that mental illness is a label applied to certain people in certain circumstances as well as suggesting that the concept of mental illness is socially constructed. Thomas Scheff - a leading writer on mental illness, argues that there is no such thing as mental illness, instead all behaviour that doesn't make sense to us we just throw into a 'dustbin category' where behaviour cant be explained through drug or alcohol use. Also he suggests people can justify odd behaviour through just passing it off as common phrases such as 'they're just a bit depressed' or 'they've got a lot on their mind at the moment.' However labelling theorists have had their work criticised on many levels, and these criticisms must be examined before any evaluation of the contribution of the labelling theorists to the sociology of deviance can be made. ...read more.

Conclusion

In many cases of deviance then this secrecy will create problems. It is also very difficult for the researcher to observe the deviant individuals in their everyday lives perhaps in dangerous areas of society, as the problems of gaining the trust of what may be in some cases, violent or dangerous people. It may also be difficult for the researcher to observe impartially, or to continue to observe without being drawn in to either commit the crimes themselves or to try to prevent the crimes being committed. Becker also outlines moral problems He questions where the researchers sympathies should lie, should they side with the 'underdog' or should they judge criminal behaviour as wrong? To evaluate the contribution of the labelling theorists to the study of the sociology of deviance, it can be said that it depends on how the theory is viewed. If the theory is seen as ' a theory with all the achievements and obligations that go with the title' then it has many flaws. But if, as Becker suggests, we attempt to consider the theory as just a way of looking at deviance, then the contribution can be great, as it opened up a study of the individual after he has committed an act of deviance. It can be concluded that labelling theory continues its usefulness, as long as deviant behaviour continues to exist. Laura Edwards ...read more.

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