The Labeling Theory
Essay Question Fifteen
The Labeling Theory is associated with Howard Becket and was introduced in
1963. Labeling theory is the theory of deviance that views deviance as a
label assigned to behavior and individuals by particular figures of
authority. That means that no one is actually a deviant and no action is
deviant unless specified by society. The acts that are considered deviant
today, may be acceptable or even normal tomorrow or in another part of the
Labeling theory is somewhat of a “if the shoe fits, wear it” theory.
Labeling theory suggests that: Social groups make deviance by making rules
whose infractions constitute deviance and by applying these rules to
particular people and labeling them as outsiders. From this point of
view, deviance is not a quality of the act that a person commits, but
rather a consequence of the application by others of rules and sanctions
to the “offender.” The deviant is one to whom that label has
successfully been applied.
When a person gets caught for engaging in a particular
crime, that person may begin to see their self in a negative context (just
as those who label the person as delinquent see the juvenile). Labeling
theory is especially crucial to understanding juvenile delinquency because
it is during the time of adolescence that juvenile’s self identities are
formed. “Labeling theory also helps explain the longer-term consequences of
a deviant label on a person’s social identity” .
If a juvenile is labeled as delinquent, then their self- identity may
develop as such and they will be far more prone to engaging in criminal
activity. Because of a juvenile’s negative self-concept, he or she
will choose to engage in crime and associate with other delinquents.