Howard Becker's Seminal Work In Sociology Essay

Length: 2 pages Sources: 3 Subject: Sociology Type: Essay Paper: #57962481 Related Topics: Self Fulfilling Prophecy, Labeling Theory, Ethnographic, Sociology
Excerpt from Essay :

¶ … Life of Howard Becker and Key Concepts of the Labeling Theory of Deviance

Criminology theory has roots in sociology and psychology, so it is not surprising to learn that Howard Becker, a sociologist, developed social reaction theory or labeling theory. Becker observed that the language used to describe the attributes or groupings of individuals can influence their behavior and impact their self-identity (Miller, et al., 2009). Labeling theory addresses the idea of a self-fulfilling prophecy and the strengthening of stereotypes as a result of the propensity of more privileged classes of people to use pejorative linguistic labels when referring to less privileged classes of people (Miller, et al., 2009).

Becker learned to play the piano at an early age, studying music and playing the piano throughout his life. He was exposed to the deviant cultures of musicians who often used drugs or smoked...


During the years that Becker taught Sociology at major universities, he would explore these deviant groups in-depth.

Labeling theory was developed during a period of time -- in the 1960s and 1970s -- when the terms "majorities" and "minorities" were used to distinguish between groups of people-based predominantly on ethnic, racial, or location of origin differences (Miller, et al., 2009). The counterpoint to labeling theory is the rejection of negative descriptors and categorizations and substituting these terms with positive, constructive language (Miller, et al., 2009). Undesirable pejorative terms often describe some attributes related to behavioral deviance, mental or physical disability, or mental health problems (Miller, et al., 2009).

Becker brought sociological research and theory back to its roots as ethnographic inquiry that stemmed from the work of W.I. Thomas and his famous dictum: "If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences." (Thomas & Thomas, 1928, p. 572). That is to say that there is high fidelity between the perceptions people have of the world and their actions. People look for patterns and tend to apply pattern thinking to their quotidian affairs. This theoretical framework underscores the concern of social scientists that the very definitions of problems have an impact on the perceptions people have of the problems (Becker, 1997). Research that is relevant to the theory of labeling highlights the need to determine what the definitions are, and who is making the definitions of the activities observed (Becker, 1997).

Becker identified individuals from deviant groups who break the accepted rules…

Sources Used in Documents:


Becker, H.S. (1997, March 1). Outsiders: Studies in the sociology of deviance. New York,

NY: Free Press.

Becker, H. (2005). An introduction to the Danish and Brazilian editions of Outsiders. Retrieved from

Miller, F.P., Vandome, A.F., & McBrewster, J. (2009). Labeling theory. Saarbrucken,

Cite this Document:

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