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Deviance and Crime Research Assignment: Becker's Labeling Theory (Essay Sample)


Sociologists attempt to understand why members of a society engage in deviant and criminal behavior. From a macro perspective, deviance occurs when the means to achieve culturally defined goals are blocked. This may be due in part to structural inequalities and power imbalances. On the micro level, there are three theories that provide explanations for deviance and crime. Consider how socialization influences individuals to choose deviant and criminal behavior. Becker, Sutherland and Hirschi have three different theories about how socialization contributes to such behavior. Becker's theory is called labeling theory, Sutherland's is called differential association theory, and Hirschi's is known as control theory. Each provides a unique explanation to help us understand deviance and crime in our everyday lives. Write an essay that highlights your understanding of deviance and crime. In your response be sure to define deviance and crime and explain the three micro level theories of Becker, Sutherland and Hirschi.


Deviance and Crime
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Deviance and Crime
Deviance and criminal behaviors have been studied for an extended period of time, with scholars trying to examine how socialization impacts on the character and the behavior of a person. According to Walsh and Hemmens (2011), deviance can be defined as behaviors that seem to go contrary to the cultural norms of a society, while crime takes place when a person violates or breaks the law. A deviant individual tends to violate the established cultural, social, and contextual norms. Conversely, a criminal violates codified laws that are enforced by government authorities. This implies that crime is also a deviant behavior that violates a norm and the law (Walsh & Hemmens, 2011). These two behaviors have numerous differences and similarities, and scholars such as Becker, Sutherland and Hirschi have developed various theories that offer unique explanations to assist in understanding how crime and deviance occur in the societies. This paper critically analyzes how socialization impacts individuals to choose deviant and criminal behaviors by examining three micro-level theories.
Becker's Labeling Theory
Labeling theory defines the self-identity and personality of an individual, arguing that people end up behaving and identifying with ways and characters which other people label them. Labeling theory is often analyzed from the standpoint of deviance and crime, where scholars say that social processes that are used to treat and define a person as deviant or a criminal tends to nurture deviant behavior (Crossman, 2017). Labeling someone as criminally deviant leads to negative repercussions since it is based on aspects of self-fulfilling prophecy, bias and stereotyping. Labeling theory managed to flourish rapidly following the works of American sociologist Howard Becker, who argued that the foundation of this theory is based on the social construction of reality.
Becker claimed that deviance and other antisocial behaviors are not intrinsically embedded to a specific action, but it is associated with the repeated behavior of a big proportion of the society labeling the minorities in a negative perspective. Some people commonly perceived other individuals as having attributes that go against the standard norms that are practiced in the society. This theory managed to spread widely in the 1960s and 1970s, when various versions of the theory were modified to suit what was being experienced between the majority and minority groups (Franzese, 2009). Labeling theory also holds that when an individual is stigmatized, he associates himself with a strong negative label that ultimately transforms his social identity and social concept.
The significance of the labeling theory is based on the assumption that the actions of an individual are not inherently criminal. This is because criminal behaviors are usually defined by authorities who have the powers of making laws which are later interpreted by enforcement authorities such as police officers, courts, and incarceration facilities. Therefore, deviance is not an attribute of a person, but a process that emerges when non-deviants and deviants interacts (Crossman, 2017). This also becomes the basis through which people interpret criminal behavior and criminality in general. Deviance can clearly be understood by first examining the reasons why certain individuals are tagged as deviants or criminals. Scholars are of the opinion that those who make and implement the law that defines moral behaviors are the ones who act the major sources of labeling. When some people are given labels and certain groups of deviance are created, the structures of power in the society are created.Most of the labeling behaviors on deviance are fr...

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