SOCIETAL REACTION THEORY Sociology Help

SOCIETAL REACTION THEORY This the oryalso called labeling thtory, begins with the fact that deviation is created by the definition of . an act as deviant. We cannot have rule breakers without rule makers. Societal reaction theory stresses the manufacture of deviation through the labeling process. By labeling an act as deviant, we set in motion a chain of events which tend to push the person into greater deviation and, finaHy, into a deviant life organization. Thus the act of labeling begins a self-fulfilling prophesy. The concepts of primary and secondary deviation, proposed by Lemert [1951, pp. 7~ 76; 1967], help to snow how people may become confirmed deviants. Primary deviJltion is the deviant behavior of one who is conformist in the rest of one's life organization. The deviant behavior is so trivial, or so generally tolerated, or so successfully concealed that one is not publicly identified as deviant, nor does one consider oneself a deviant lut as a "decent person" who has a little secret or eccentricity. Lemert writes that "the deviations remain primary . . . as long as they are rationalized or otherwise dealt with as functions of a socially acceptable role" (1951, p. 75). Secondary deviati0t! is that which follows one's public identification as a deviant Sometimes the discovery of a single deviant act (of' rape, incest; homosexuality, burglary, drug use), or even a false accusation: may be enough to label one as a deviant (rapist, dope  fiend, etc.). This labeling process [Lemert, 1951, p. 77; Becker, 1963,'chap. 1; Schur, 1971 Pfuhl, 19?9,·chap.,6] is highly important, for it may be the' point of no return on the road to a deviant. life organization. One engaging in primary deviation can still maintain a conventional set of roles and statuses and can 'still share the normal conformity-reinforcing group pressures and associations. But being labeled a "deviant" tends to isolate one from these conformity-reinforcing influences. Persons so labeled may be dismissed from their jobs or barred from their professions, ostracized by conventional people, and possibly imprisoned and forever branded as "criminal." They are almost forced into association with other deviants my their exclusion from conventional society" As one becomes dependent upon deviant associations and begins to use deviation as' a defense against the  conventional society Which has branded one, the deviation becomes the central focus of one's life reorganization.

For a number of authors, this societal reaction theory describes how a deviant act  often triggers a chain of events which deepen and confirm a-pattern of deviation. Chan bliss illustrates with the example of a small group of boys who, labeled 'as "had boys," actually became the bad boys they were accused of being.

The community responded to the Roughnecks as boys in trouble, 'and the boys agreed with that perception. Their pattern of deviancy was reinforced, and breaking away from it became increasingly unlikely. Once the boys acquired an image'of themselves as deviants, they selected new friends who affirmed that self-image. As that self-conception became more firmly entrenched they also became willing to  new and: \nore extreme deviance. With their growing alienation came freer expression of disrespect and hostility for representatives of the legitimate society. This disrespect increased the community's negativism. perpetuating the entire process of commitment to deviance. When it is time to leave adolescence ... [it is likely that the Roughnecks'] noticeable deviance will have been so reinforced by police and Community that their lives will be effectively channeled into careers consistent with the adolescent background. (WilliamJ. Chambliss,"The '. Saints and the Roughnecks," in James M. Hen- . slin,(ed.), Deviallt Life-Styles, Transaction Books, New BrunSwick,-N.J., 1977, pp. 303--304.Pub- Ii$hed by permission of transaction, Inc., from Society, by Transaction, Inc.)  To labeling theorists, much. of  responsibility for juvenile delinquency arises from the clumsy efforts of police, courts, and case workers who unwittingly teach youths to .'"link of themselves as delinquents and to act as delinquents [Ageton and Elliott, 1974; Kasselbaum, 1974, p. 67]. This sounds plausible put is it true? As Matzo observes, this regression is not an inexorable process; that is the deviant is not helplessly swept down a chute from which there is no escape [1969]. Instead, the deviant has a choice. At many points irt the process of becoming delinquent, the perspire elects to continue. " Labeling theorists claims that many "mentally ill" are only mildly eccentric until they are labeled as "mentally ill." Then people start treatipg them .differently. Income and work status usually suffer as one is dismissed or passed over for promotion [Link, 1982J. Efforts to reject the "illness" label are seen by others as additional "symptoms" of mental illness. Any effendis of the "patient" to act as a normal person my be system while the patient is rewarded for sinking into a helpless  dependent passivity. In a famous experiment, I Rosenhan and several colleagues arranged to be admitted 'to a psychiatric hospital labeled. as schizophrenics. The staff treated them as schizophrenics and ignored the fact they behaved perfectly normally. From this Rosenhan concluded that the patients' label, not their behavior, determined their veatment by the staff [Rosenhan, 1973]. Thus the "manufacture of madness" creates mental illness where there may be nothing more than annoying or mildly eccentric behavior {Scheff, 1966; Szasz, 1970]. But replicatio'.-t studies have failed to. support Rosenhan':s thesis [Lindsay, 1982], and the "manufacture of madness" thesis is not well substantiated. Research studies testing labeling theory are conflicting and inconclusive [Mahoney, 1974; Gove, 1975, 1980]. Most primary groups resist expelling the deviant member and seek to bring the person back to conformity [Orcutt, 1973]. Empirical evidence shows. that under some conditions labeling encourages additional deviation, while under some other conditions labeling encourages a return to conformity [Tittle, 1975, 1980; Horowitz and Wassermann, 1979]. For example, some police officials believe that publishing names of persons arrested for drunken driving does act to reduce and not to increase drunken driving  Carino, 1982], but this has not been tested.

In summary, it appears that labeling sometimes increases and sometimes reduces further deviation, but labeling theory offers no
explanation of which effect labeling will have or of why a person commits that first act of deviation.

Posted on September 2, 2014 in SOCIAL ORDER AND SOCIAL CONTROL

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