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Critically evaluate the contribution that the Labelling theory has made to our understanding of the nature of Crime and Deviance.

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Introduction

Critically evaluate the contribution that the Labelling theory has made to our understanding of the nature of Crime and Deviance. Most approaches to the understanding of crime and deviance, (except Marxism) accept there is a difference between those who offend and those who don't. However, one group of sociologists, influenced by symbolic interactionism, have questioned this approach, arguing that the approach is mistaken in the assumption that lawbreakers are different from the law-abiding. The Labelling theory is greatly influenced by symbolic interactionism and instead suggests that most people commit deviant or criminal acts, but only some people are caught and stigmatised for it. This approach to the understanding of crime and deviance is an opinion dividing one, facing many criticisms. It is unique in that, unlike other theories on crime and deviance, it argues that it is pointless trying to search for the differences between deviants and non-deviants and instead, suggests the stress should be upon understanding the reaction to, and definition of, deviance rather than on the causes of the initial act. Howard Becker made, arguably, one of the most important contributions to understanding crime and deviance through the development of labelling theory. Becker states that no act is criminal or deviant until it has been labelled as such by others, or "deviant behaviour is behaviour that people so label". ...read more.

Middle

However, Liazos criticises the labelling theorists for simply exploring marginally deviant activities, by doing so, they are reinforcing the idea of pimps, prostitutes and mentally ill people as being deviant. Even by claiming to speak for the underdog, labelling theorists hardly present any challenge for the status quo. Labelling theory alerts us to the way in which the whole area of crime depends upon social constructions of reality, law creation, law enforcement and the identities of the rule breakers are thrown into question. The media play a key role in all three of these processes, as most people's perceptions of crime are actually created or at least informed by the media. British Sociologist, Leslie Wilkins showed how the response to deviance, instead of just by the individual, but by agencies such as the police and the media, can actually generate an increase in deviance. This was known as Deviancy Amplification. Wilkins stated that when acts are defined as deviant, the deviants become stigmatised and cut off from mainstream society. They become aware that they are regarded as deviants and, as a consequence of this awareness, they become more isolated and even result in developing their own subcultures, which further confirms and strengthens them in their deviance. One example of this was provided by Jock Young, who used this concept in his study of drug use in North London. ...read more.

Conclusion

Labelling stresses the socially created nature of mental illness and the contribution others make to the acquirement of symptoms of illness which occur after the labelling has taken place. The labelling approach has been criticise for ignoring the reality of mental illness and for failing to appreciate the very real conditions which lead certain groups to have high rates of mental illness. Often mental illness derives from a lack of material resources and meaningful relationships, which results in feelings of worthlessness and despair. Mental illness does not hit the population randomly, but us far more likely to strike the poor than the affluent; females rather than males and blacks rather than whites. Overall, while there are many criticisms of Becker's labelling theory contribution to crime and deviance it is clear that despite its criticisms, it has had a major impact on the understanding of crime and deviance. Labelling theory has provided an alternative understanding towards the nature crime and deviance. It has developed the understanding of society's reaction to, and labelling of criminals. It explores the perception of deviance from the individual and from social institutions and agenises. Although understanding crime and deviance through the development of labelling theory does not hold a complete answer or understanding, it does provide a very strong and convincing argument of what crime and deviance essentially is, and why we as a society label some people or acts as criminal or deviant. ...read more.

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