Using material from Item A and elsewhere assess the view that crime and deviance are the product of labelling processes. Some sociologists believe that the cause of crime and deviance is labelling which is when a label is attached to a person or group of people due to their appearance, sex, ethnicity etc. Labelling theory argues that once this label has been attached it can create a self fulfilling prophecy, which is when the person begins to act according to the label and hence it comes true simply through being made.
Labelling is similar to stereotyping but this is when a person assigns certain characteristics to a labelled group. An example to support this would be 9/11. Since this disaster people label Muslims as being terrorists simply because a small minority of Muslims were involved. Item A shows how ASBO’s which were introduced to try and reduce criminal behaviour in young people, have resulted in labelling as ‘the orders were disproportionately used against ethnic minorities: blacks and Asians were about two and a half times more likely than whites to be given an ASBO’.
This shows how the Police were more likely to give ASBO’s to ethnic minorities than white youths which is an example of labelling. Interactionists who believe that labelling causes crime and deviance differ from other theorists as they believe that actually the majority of people have broken the law at some point, and also that official statistics are nothing more than social constructs. Their main focus is on how some groups, such as the working class and ethnic minorities, get labelled as criminal by the more powerful people in society.
Becker looks at labelling theory and he argues that actually deviance is ‘in the eye of the beholder’, which means that something only becomes deviant once it has been labelled as such. Therefore deviance only exists because the people with power in society have decided that something is deviant. He also believes that whether or not the deviant label will be applied to an act depends on who commits it, when, where, who sees it and the negotiations which take place between the ‘deviant’ and the police.
For example, middle class are often able to get themselves out of trouble due to their cultural capital. Studies of policing support this as they show that police are more likely to stop and search or arrest men from working class backgrounds or ethnic minorities as they believe that there behaviour is ‘suspicious’, again showing how social control agents label. Interactions say that this is because the police have an idea of what a typical criminal looks like, and these things fit that idea.
By the police labelling them they may create self fulfilling prophecies in which case labelling these people in the first place would be creating more crime and deviance. Becker’s view is also supported by Cicourel who looks at police and probation officers in California. He had similar findings to other police studies as he found that officers were more likely to arrest people who they saw as typical offenders. This meant that law enforcement showed a class bias and that the police spent more time patrolling poorer areas hence arresting more working class people.
This then made it seem as though there stereotypes were correct when in fact it was just that they were watching these areas more closely than middle class areas. Furthermore, Cicourel looked at other social control agents within the criminal justice system beside the police and found that they were also bias in terms of who they labelled as criminal. An example was probation officers who decided that juvenile delinquency was caused by people from broken homes, poor backgrounds and careless parenting.
This meant that in their eyes young people from these sorts of background were more likely to offend in the future and so didn’t support non-custodial sentences in those cases. In his Cicourel’s study of juvenile justice the methods he used were participant and non participant observation. The strengths of using this method to look at labelling in the justice system were that he could gain first hand experience which is good as you can understand something best if you see it or experience it for yourself.
It also produced a valid picture of what goes in within the police. Other methods such as interviews would not give him the opportunity to do this as it is labelling, so it isn’t something they are going to want to own up to. However, we can’t be sure if in fact his interpretations were valid because other people would argue this method produces an invalid picture as it is down to the opinion of the sociologist/researcher. Another weakness is that it could be classed as