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Labeling theory

the individual is a constantly changing changing person who responds to other's reactions


What is important to labeling theorists?

1. What happens after an act, not what caused the “act”
2. Deviance is a property conferred upon an act, not something inherent in the act (deviance is something we create)
3. The labeling of a person is a process of symbolic interaction between the “deviant” and the significant others
4. The labeling process is affected by who does the labeling and by how the person reacts to the label, as well as the person being labeled
5. The act of labeling may lead to retrospective interpretation of the person's past behavior
6. The deviant becomes the master status


who gets labeled?

people who can't fight back


Ascribed status

something you were born into or can't control


Achieved status



3 stages to the labeling process

1. Person A (or a group of people) does something (PRIMARY DEVIANCE) that someone else doesn’t like. Person A may or may not know at this time that what they did was “wrong, bad, etc.)
2. Person B (or a group of people) react negatively to what person A did.
a. The strength of B’s negative reaction is important
b. The strength (physically and politically) of person A is important here
c. Does Person A repeat behavior?
d. Does person B react negatively again?
3. Person A (or group) thinks of themselves as deviant AND now act deviantly because that is what they think they are supposed to do. Person A has a “deviant” identity (master status)
a. May now dress the part
b. May get rewarded (attention) for playing the part