Uploaded by echeater1234 on Jan 07, 2009
This paper critically examines Howard Becker's labeling theory (1963) view that "social groups create deviance by making the rules whose infraction constitutes deviance." The first section provides an explication of Becker's statement within the broader context of labeling theory and social deviance. The next section considers Becker's formulations within the context of specific examples. Finally, the analysis examines the possibility of bringing the labeled outsider back "inside" through a process using Braithwaite's theory of re-integrative shaming.
Labelling theorists stress the point of seeing deviance from the viewpoint of the deviant individual. They claim that when a person becomes known as a deviant, and is ascribed deviant behaviour patterns, it is as much, if not more, to do with the way they have been labelled, as the deviant act they are said to have committed.
Howard S. Becker, one of the earlier interaction theorists, claimed that, "social groups create deviance by making the rules whose infraction constitutes deviance, and by applying those rules to particular people and labelling them as outsiders". According to Becker, after the individual has been labelled as deviant, they progress down the path of a 'deviant career' and it becomes hard to shake off the deviant label as others see it as a master status of the individual. He points out in "Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance" 1963 , however, that when studying 'deviant people' one should not take their deviance for granted, as one "cannot assume that these people have actually committed a deviant act or broken some rule, because the process of labelling theory may not be infallible", that is to be labelled deviant does not necessarily mean that the individual is, or has been deviant in the past.
In "Notes on the Sociology of Deviance",
Kai T. Erikson, also highlights the way social reaction affects the deviant individual. He reinforces what Backer had previously said: "deviance is not a property inherent in certain forms of behaviour, it is a property conferred upon these forms by the audiences which directly or indirectly witness them". He suggests, however, that deviance is necessary to society's stability, rather than being responsible for its breakdown, as the deviant individual serves as a marker of the difference between good and evil, right and wrong, and as Erikson writes, "in doing so, he shows us the difference between the inside of the group and the outside". He goes on to bring...