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Assess the view that powerful institutions such as the mass media, the police and judiciary label social groups as deviants and/or criminals.

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Introduction

Assess the view that powerful institutions such as the mass media, the police and judiciary label social groups as deviants and/or criminals. Labelling is present in many areas of sociology, and crime and deviance is no exception. It involves a 'label' or categorisation being applied to someone or to the social group of which they belong, either rightfully or wrongfully, which can have detrimental or positive effects. Various institutions label social groups, some believe it is done predominantly by the police, mass media and judiciary system. By exploring aspects like moral panics, arrests, and laws passed by the judiciary, we will establish to what extent these institutions do label these social groups as deviants and/or criminals. Labelling theory is a theoretical approach derived from symbolic interactionism, which looks at the consequences of having a particular social typing or label placed on an act, group or person. What the labelling theory alerts us to is the way in which the whole area of crime is dependent upon social constructions of reality - law creation, law enforcement and the identities of law breakers are all questionable. The media composes a key element of creating these social constructions. When considering reports of crime on television for example, they are thought to help create or inform people's perceptions of crime, and of which social groups are deviants and/or criminals. There is also a problem when defining 'criminal' and 'deviant' because it depends on the individuals own perceptions, there is no universal definition. ...read more.

Middle

It seems the police are labelling the blacks as deviant, concentrating policing in the inner city areas where the majority are. The judiciary system already has preconceived ideas about blacks, and this affects the amount that are arrested, prosecuted and put on trial in the courts. Some would say that black youths have even developed their own subcultures, as a form of resistance to capitalism and negative labelling. From a Marxist perspective, youth are the social group that are under the least control by the bourgeoisie. They do not pay taxes or have mortgages, like the working-class do. Since the youth then find it hard to legitimately achieve the high societal goals, they develop 'magical solutions' via youth subculture. In the same way, blacks have found themselves marginalized from white society, and in response have developed their own subculture resisting capitalism and often turning to crime. They are essentially 'driven underground' by the labels the media and police apply. Another social group that the media and police can be seen to 'drive underground' is the subculture of drug-takers. This is a good example of how the police label this social group as deviant and a problem to society. In a study by Parker, he found that the drug-takers regarded their activity as being wholly innocent and consisting of just 'having fun'. Another interesting aspect is that the drug-takers come from backgrounds that just do not fit the media's stereotype of a deviant criminal. ...read more.

Conclusion

It generated massive public guilt, and since predicted a breakdown of societal values and cohesion. There was a significant focus on child crime, as people searched for answers to this tragedy. The group's stigmatization was further fuelled by polices claims that juvenile crime was on the increase and young people were out of control, breaking the law due to insufficient penalties for their delinquency. This prompted demands for tighter controls, curfews for young people and stricter laws. However, other statistics showed that juvenile crime had indeed dropped, these were dismissed by the authorities because claiming the figures a misrepresentation and only appeared so due to a reduction in numbers in the juvenile population. There were also calls for stricter controls on violent films as it was reported by the media that the boys may have been influenced by the film Child's Play III though there is little evidence in place to support this argument. Overall, it seems the police; mass media and judiciary do label social groups as deviant and/or criminals. From the above examples, we can see cases where this happens with a resulting effect of alienating or categorizing a social group in a negative light. When the powerful institutions do seem to label, it does however largely depend on one's definition of criminal or deviant, but the powerful institutions can be seen to play a part in creating this definition. ...read more.

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