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Symbolic Interactionism and Labelling Theory

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Title: Symbolic Interactionism and Labelling Theory


1
Symbolic Interactionism and Labelling Theory
  • Dan Ellingworth
  • Tuesday, 2 December 2008

2
Key Features of Interactionism
  • A micro level perspective
  • Social Action, rather than social structure
  • Focuses on how we interpret the social world, and
    give meaning to action
  • Importance of Social Context
  • The Self

3
George Mead and The Self
  • Our self-conceptions are a combination of
  • I spontaneous action observing
  • Me aware of how others see me reflecting a
    censored and partial role played for others
  • Together these form the Self

4
Interactionism and Deviance
  • Crime and criminal are not clear, unambiguous
    categories
  • People can technically break the law without
    undermining their self-image
  • Social Construction of Deviance different
    actions can result in punishment or not,
    dependent on different circumstances

5
Source Becker (1963) Outsiders Obedient Behaviour Rule-Breaking Behaviour
Perceived as Deviant Falsely Accused Pure Deviant
Not Perceived as Deviant Conforming Secret Deviant
6
  • Deviance is not a quality of the act the person
    commits, but rather a consequence of the
    application by others of rules and sanctions to
    an offender. The deviant is one to whom the
    label has successfully applied deviant behaviour
    is behaviour that people so label.
  • Howard S. Becker The Outsiders

7
Task How are the following actions responded to
differently?
  • Killing
  • Swearing
  • Drinking
  • Speeding

Different behaviour can be perceived and
interpreted differently
8
To understand crime, we need to therefore
understand-
  • The Behaviour
  • and
  • The Reaction to it

9
Edwin Lemert
  • Primary Deviancy may be temporary
    experimentation does not result in a changed
    self-conception
  • Secondary deviancy results when labelling has
    established a deviant self-identity
  • May result in acceptance of deviant status, and
    reorganisation of life to preserve Self
  • The societal reaction may, or may not be
    triggered by primary deviancy

10
Howard Becker The Outsiders
  • Focused on the process by which individuals
    achieved a marijuana smoker
  • Stigma attached to the deviant label changed
    individuals behaviour
  • Individuals deviants relocate themselves entirely
    within the subcultural groups master status as
    deviant

11
Deviancy Amplification
  • (Unintended) consequences of labelling
  • Adaptation of deviants master status
  • Copycat behaviour
  • Application of label to a growing and less well
    defined range of situations
  • More stringent prioritisation of problems
  • Targeting the groups
  • Reduced levels of discretion
  • Stricter Sentences
  • Changing Interpretation of Labels

12
What determines the application of the deviant
label?
  • Power Groups which have the ability to make and
    enforce laws
  • Ideology the identification of the behaviour
    which is to be criminalized

13
Key Groups in the Labelling perspective
  • Law Makers
  • Law Breakers
  • Law Enforcers
  • The Reactors (i.e. the public), and those who
    influence them

14
Moral Panics
  • An exaggerated, simplified, media reaction to a
    threat to societal values, calling for greater
    social control, but producing a spiral of reaction

15
Folk Devils and Moral Panics
  • Stan Cohens classic study of the press coverage
    of Mods and Rockers Riots in the 1960s
  • Sensationalised distortion of events
  • Predictions of future conflict and violence
    self-fulfilling prophecy
  • Symbolic deviance Folk Devils
  • Moral entrepreneurs calling for greater social
    control, resulting in marginalisation

16
Policing the Crisis
  • Stuart Hall (et al) moral panic around mugging
  • Discourse around themes of youth, crime and race
    used to shape the debate, and reinforced the New
    Right political project (hegemony) of
    authoritarian populism

17
Weaknesses of the Labelling Perspective
  • Relativist definition of crime
  • Lack of focus on causes of primary deviance does
    unobserved deviance exist?
  • Only successfully applied to certain types of
    crime
  • Difficult (impossible?) to show evidence, as
    primary deviance is hidden
  • Ignores social structure, power, etc.

18
Strengths of the Labelling Perspective
  • Importance of self-perception
  • Leads to a shift away from the focus on the
    offender
  • The beginnings of criminology considering the
    role of law enforcers (e.g. the police) in
    criminological explanation
  • Some aspects of labelling still influential in
    areas of criminological debate

19
Enduring Influences of Labelling
  • Resettlement of offenders
  • Did you know many prisoners are homeless and
    unemployed after they are released from prison?
    Given this fact, it's not that surprising that
    many ex-prisoners drift back into crime. We make
    sure that prisoners get the support they need to
    lead law-abiding lives and play a meaningful part
    in society.
  • NACRO Website

20
Reintegrative Shaming
  • Policies aimed at reintegrating offenders back
    into mainstream society
  • Societal disapproval, coupled with gestures of
    re-acceptance aim to avoid stigma
  • Aimed at re-orienting the offenders sense of
    Self by appealing to their conscience

21
Summary
  • Individuals make sense of the world according to
    the way people react to them
  • 2 aspects to personality Id and Ego
  • Labels threaten the sense of self (the id)
  • 2 choices
  • cease behaviour causing label
  • seek out norms, values and behaviour that
    support/ condone deviant behaviour
  • Deviancy Amplification
  • Deviant labels not just the result of crime
  • Public discourse development and shaping of a
    deviant phenomenon
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