Assess the view that crime and deviance is the result of labelling, the media and public opinion

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Charlie Thompson

Assess the view that crime and deviance is the result of labelling, the media and public opinion

Crime and deviance happens in all cultures in the world and there are many reasons too why people turn to crime or deviance. This essay is going to be about determining if crime is the result of labelling or other social explanations. They are discussed in the sociology of deviance because they are trying to find why people commit crimes from two perspectives, Interactionist where they are walking in the shoes of the person, or a structuralist’s approach where they are having a bird’s eye view of life. There are differences between the term crime and deviance.  Crime is the idea that any action which is considered to break the rules of society with an example being murder. On the other hand a deviant act is a much broader line defined as behaviour which moves away from conventional norms and values. However, some things like murder and rape are both considered criminal and deviant, however crime and deviance is relative changing in relation to time, place and culture. This means that crime and deviance is socially constructed for example created and defined by the people of that society and not universal. Discussed in this essay will be the impact that labelling can cause on people and to determine if this can cause people to deviate from social norms. One theorists who will be discussed who does believe that crime and deviance is caused by labelling is Howard Becker. This interactionist believes that doing something in society isn’t wrong or bad, however it is the label we attach to it that has meaning. One believes that there is a labelling process in society that causes the person to accept this label, and to start acting in accordance to it. Discussed also will be the theories that believes that it is not just labelling that can cause crime and deviance, but there are also social explanations to crime. Robert Merton believes that people who can’t achieve high success in life (money) people will try and achieve this illegally. Also discussed is the subcultural strain theory from Albert Cohen, Cloward and Ohlin, and Walter Miller. Cohen believes that crime is cause by the lower class resolving the frustration of a lack of opportunity by doing non-utilitarian crime. Cloward and Ohlin believe that there is a different type of crime, depending on the area that they live in. Walter Miller believe that crime is caused by the low skilled labour and dead end jobs that leads to the person finding excitement and thrills outside the work place by deviant means. Becker’s idea that people that are labelled turn to crime is a good idea, however, there are more social influences that will affect crime which is why the strain theories are good in determining crime levels such as frustration in not having good living conditions due to money or lifestyle.

Interactionists are different to structuralists in different ways. Structuralists such as Functionalists, Marxists and subcultural theories all believe that it is the structures of society that influence peoples behaviour. This is called a macro approach which is where institutions in society such as education, politics and religion affect society and the way that people live their lives. So they believe that people commit crime is because society is structured in a way which forces them to do so. Interactionists in the other hand focus on the interaction between people and society. They tend to use a micro approach to society by intending to understanding a person’s behaviour by walking in their shoes and seeing how they see the world. An example of Interactionists is labelling theorists. Rather that simply taking the definition of crime for granted, labelling theorists are interested in how and why certain acts come to be defined or labelled as criminal in the first place.

Howard Becker is an example of a labelling theorist who believes that a deviant is simply someone to whom the label has been successfully applied, and deviant behaviour is simply behaviour that people so label. Becker said ‘Social groups create deviance by creating the rules whose infraction constitutes deviance, and by applying those rules to particular people and labelling them as outsiders.’ So Becker is saying that society creates the rules, deviant activity is not intrinsically different to any other, it just steps outside the boundaries of social acceptance. An example would be a deviant drug taker injecting him self with heroin, and law abiding man administering insulin for his diabetes. Becker says that neither of these are deviant, due to the fact that the act of injecting one selves isn’t morally good or bad; it’s the label we attach to it that has meaning.  However, there are some negative points of Becker’s idea that something is wrong by the content. It implies that without labelling, deviance would not exist. This leads to the strange conclusion that someone who commits a crime but is not labelled has not deviated. It also implies that deviants are unaware that they are deviant until labelled. Yet most are well aware that they are going against social norms.

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As social beings, our identity is largely to do with how others see us. If people see us negatively this could affect the way in which we behave, for example a person is labelled as a rapist.. This is the idea of the labelling process. The first of the parts is where a label is attached by courts, police or newspaper be it a racist, murderer or any other actions labelled a crime. This label sticks and people treat the person differently even if it isn’t true. This label then becomes a master status and overrides other labels as ...

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