What Is the Labelling Theory? Summarise and Evaluate Its Application to the Analysis of Crime and Criminal Justice.

1666 words 7 pages
Labelling theory refers to the ability to attach a label to a person or group of people and in so doing the label becomes more important than the individual. The label becomes the dominant form of identify and takes on ‘Master Status’ (Becker 1963; Lemert 1967) so that the person can no longer be seen other than through the lens of the label. Words, just like labels, are containers of meaning. In this case, the label and the meaning attached to it becomes all that the person is rather than a temporary feature of something that they have done or a way that they have behaved.

"Words [or labels], like little buckets, are assumed to pick up their loads of meaning in one person's mind, carry them across the intervening space, and dump them
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This provides evidence against the theory that argues that in most cases secondary deviance would have been taken on where that person accepts their label, therefore associating with similarly branded people and other rule breakers.

When looking at the various aspects of Labelling theory its evident that the theory has its weaknesses. Hagen (1973) introduced the idea of ‘self-labelling’ in which he believes a ‘criminal’ such as a murderer can only be labelled by society if the individual gets caught. If unsuspected however, then the label doesn’t apply. It could be argued that if the person who committed the murder has a conscience this will lead to a sense of guilt and a form of ‘self-labelling’ would come into play. This however goes against the labelling theory as it states that the labelling must come from a third party.

According to Wellford (1975) acts are only criminal if or when society considers them to be. It could be argued that in the example given above, the third party is society and the subconscious rules that society inflicts on its citizens.

Additionally, Labelling theory states that all criminal acts have an effect on everyone regardless of gender, age, race or social class (Becker, 1963). However, this has been questioned by other criminologists who have argued differently, (although to date there is no scientific evidence to support this). It also depends on who in society is branding