Labeling Theory Criminality Is an Unfortunate but Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

Labeling Theory

Criminality is an unfortunate but inevitable component of human society. As much as people would like to believe that there is a way to create a type of community that has no crime, psychologists and other experts in the field of criminology have done research and created various hypotheses which show that criminality is actually an inevitability under any circumstances where large numbers of human beings interact and then create a system of laws. Wherever there is a system of laws, there will be at least a few people who choose to behave in ways antithetical to those laws. Among the many theories that have been explored about the potential reasons for criminality, perhaps the most interesting and most logical is the hypothetical argument which is referred to as the labeling theory.

Labeling is the process by which an individual is identified by the society in which they live according to certain criteria. The social structure provides the label and applies it to the individual. There can be positive, negative, and neutral labels. Once a label is applied, it is difficult to remove it because society constantly underlines and reinforces the label on that person and on all the other people in a given community. Each person is given some sort of label in their community, whether that be a label of familial connection (i.e. mother, daughter, father, son), a label of occupation (i.e. doctor, teacher, clerk), or a moral label (good person or bad person). A single individual may and probably does carry with them a plethora of labels all of which are based upon social construction. According to Larry Siegel in the book Criminology, "Children negatively labeled by their parents routinely suffer a variety of problems, including antisocial behavior and school failure" (254). The theory establishes the idea that people are born with certain label attachments, such as regarding their gender, social status, and geographical location of upbringing.

The negative connotations that are associated with certain labels can in turn impact the identity of the individual such that they are more likely to commit criminal acts. For example, those that are labeled as poor or low class are more likely to engage in random, petty crimes than those who are labeled with the attributes of the upper class (Welford "Future"). Social and financial statuses here are being equated with the quality of the person and their propensity to either follow or break the law.

The labeling theory also suggests that the actions of the criminal provide them with negative labels which will potentially affect whether or not they will continue to commit crimes. People who commit crimes are labeled by their action as "thief" or "murderer" or whatever their crime may have been. This component of labeling theory has earned it the secondary title of "dramatization of evil" (Townsend). The argument is that the person who has been labeled by their criminality will find their opportunities limited once their punishment is over and that this additional social restriction will then lead them to recidivism (Lilly 157). Perhaps the person will not be able to achieve traditional employment or will have difficulty in joining with the society outside of the prison.

In the 1930s, Frank Tannenbaum wrote that by providing people with labels according to criminal behavior, society is in turn creating a situation where in…

Sources Used in Document:

Works Cited:

Lilly, J. Robert. Criminological Theory: Context and Consequences. Thousand Oaks, CA:

SAGE. 2011. Print.

Siegel, Larry J. Criminology. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage. 11th ed. 2012. Print.

Townsend, Kerry. "Frank Tannenbaum: 'Dramatization of Evil.'" Web. 2012.

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