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Symbolic Interactionism and Labelling Theory

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Symbolic Interactionism and Labelling Theory

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  1. Symbolic Interactionism and Labelling Theory Dan Ellingworth Tuesday, 2 December 2008

  2. Key Features of Interactionism • A micro level perspective • Social Action, rather than social structure • Focuses on how we interpret the social world, and give meaning to action • Importance of Social Context • The “Self”

  3. George Mead and “The Self” • Our self-conceptions are a combination of • “I” : spontaneous action; observing • “Me”: aware of how others see me; reflecting a censored and partial role played for others • Together these form the Self

  4. Interactionism and Deviance • “Crime” and “criminal” are not clear, unambiguous categories • People can technically break the law without undermining their self-image • Social Construction of Deviance: different actions can result in punishment or not, dependent on different circumstances

  5. “Deviance is not a quality of the act the person commits, but rather a consequence of the application by others of rules and sanctions to an ‘offender’. The deviant is one to whom the label has successfully applied; deviant behaviour is behaviour that people so label.” Howard S. Becker “The Outsiders”

  6. Task: How are the following actions responded to differently? • Killing • Swearing • Drinking • Speeding Different behaviour can be perceived and interpreted differently

  7. To understand crime, we need to therefore understand:- • The Behaviour and • The Reaction to it

  8. Edwin Lemert • Primary Deviancy: may be temporary experimentation: does not result in a changed self-conception • Secondary deviancy: results when labelling has established a deviant self-identity • May result in acceptance of deviant status, and reorganisation of life to preserve “Self” • The societal reaction may, or may not be triggered by primary deviancy

  9. Howard Becker: “The Outsiders” • Focused on the process by which individuals achieved a marijuana smoker • Stigma attached to the deviant label changed individuals behaviour • Individuals deviants relocate themselves entirely within the subcultural groups: master status as deviant

  10. Deviancy Amplification • (Unintended) consequences of labelling • Adaptation of deviants “master status” • Copycat behaviour • Application of label to a growing and less well defined range of situations • More stringent prioritisation of problems • Targeting the groups • Reduced levels of discretion • Stricter Sentences • Changing Interpretation of Labels

  11. What determines the application of the “deviant” label? • Power : Groups which have the ability to make and enforce laws • Ideology : the identification of the behaviour which is to be criminalized

  12. Key Groups in the Labelling perspective • Law Makers • Law Breakers • Law Enforcers • The Reactors (i.e. the public), and those who influence them

  13. Moral Panics • An exaggerated, simplified, media reaction to a threat to societal values, calling for greater social control, but producing a spiral of reaction

  14. Folk Devils and Moral Panics • Stan Cohen’s classic study of the press coverage of Mods and Rockers “Riots” in the 1960s • Sensationalised distortion of events • Predictions of future conflict and violence: self-fulfilling prophecy • Symbolic deviance: “Folk Devils” • Moral entrepreneurs calling for greater social control, resulting in marginalisation

  15. Policing the Crisis • Stuart Hall (et al): moral panic around ‘mugging’ • Discourse around themes of youth, crime and race used to shape the debate, and reinforced the New Right political project (hegemony) of authoritarian populism

  16. Weaknesses of the Labelling Perspective • Relativist definition of crime • Lack of focus on causes of primary deviance: does unobserved deviance exist? • Only successfully applied to certain types of crime • Difficult (impossible?) to show evidence, as primary deviance is hidden • Ignores social structure, power, etc.

  17. Strengths of the Labelling Perspective • Importance of self-perception • Leads to a shift away from the focus on the offender • The beginnings of criminology considering the role of law enforcers (e.g. the police) in criminological explanation • Some aspects of labelling still influential in areas of criminological debate

  18. Enduring Influences of Labelling • Resettlement of offenders “Did you know many prisoners are homeless and unemployed after they are released from prison? Given this fact, it's not that surprising that many ex-prisoners drift back into crime. We make sure that prisoners get the support they need to lead law-abiding lives and play a meaningful part in society.” NACRO Website

  19. Reintegrative Shaming • Policies aimed at reintegrating offenders back into ‘mainstream’ society • Societal disapproval, coupled with gestures of re-acceptance: aim to avoid stigma • Aimed at re-orienting the offender’s sense of “Self” by appealing to their conscience

  20. Summary • Individuals make sense of the world according to the way people react to them • 2 aspects to personality: Id and Ego • Labels threaten the sense of self (the id) • 2 choices • cease behaviour causing label • seek out norms, values and behaviour that support/ condone deviant behaviour • Deviancy Amplification • Deviant labels not just the result of crime • Public discourse development and shaping of a deviant “phenomenon”