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Deviant Behavior: Social Power and Labeling Essay

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Updated: Jun 6th, 2020

Deviance is a tendency by a person to act, think, and relate in a manner that is either unnatural or unstandardized. Such a person is considered by others to have deviated from normalcy and expectations of the society. Deviance may be criminal or noncriminal. Criminal deviance is the one that involves the breaking of formal rules in a society like stealing other peoples’ properties. Noncriminal deviance involves breaking of informal rules in a society like gossiping or infidelity (Wilkins, 2003).

However, informal rules may vary from society to another, meaning that what may be a formal rule in one society may be an informal one in another society. For instance, infidelity may be prohibited under the law in some societies, while in others, it maybe not. There are many theories explaining deviance and criminal behavior. One of these theories is the labeling theory, which was originally developed by Frank Tannenbaum in the late 1930s (Wilkins, 2003).

Labeling theory is a combination of two other theories, namely the conflict and symbolic interactionism theories. This theory is concerned with the meanings people derive from others through certain labels, actions, symbols, and reactions. According to the theory, people’s behaviors are influenced by what others say and think about them. It, therefore, follows that society has the power to influence the behavior of others through indiscriminately defining what constitutes good and bad behavior. However, the effect of the labeling on a person is influenced by whether he or she accepts that label or not (Siegel, 2008).

As per the labeling theory, there are two forms of deviance, namely primary and secondary deviance. Primary deviance constitutes bad behaviors that are trivial and not frequent, while secondary defiance constitutes bad behaviors that are noticeable and frequent. Deviance, therefore, starts as primary and then progresses to secondary. Those people who label others in a society are the ones who have social power in that society and may include peers, community groups, various authorities, and family members (CliffsNotes.com, 2011).

As per the “The Saints and the Roughnecks,” a study was done in 1973 by William Chambliss, labeling may have both positive and negative consequences on young people. As per the study, both the Saints and the Roughnecks were involved in criminal behaviors of drinking, vandalism, and theft. But the Saints did not label themselves as deviants by being apologetic and polite to the police as well as being careful when planning and doing the criminal acts, which made the police to refer them as ‘Saints,’ implying not deviants. The Roughnecks, on the other hand, involved themselves in criminal acts without caring for the aftermaths and also became hostile to the police when caught in criminal activities. This made the police to refer them as ‘Roughnecks,’ implying deviants (CliffsNotes.com, 2011).

Labeling may affect young people of today by making them be involved in both criminal and noncriminal deviant activities. This may affect their education as well as their physical, social, and psychological well-being. If young people are labeled negatively, they may lose their self-esteem, which is essential in their growth and development. If they are labeled positively, they may unleash their full potential for their growth and development (Siegel, 2008).

Negative labeling may also compromise a person’s position in society by inhibiting his or her ability to interact with his or her peers. It may also increase the rates of recidivism among young offenders who are released from prisons after completing their sentences due to the fact that people in society do not easily remove the labels on people. The problem may be worse in situations where the victims have accepted the labels, which becomes very hard for them to believe that they can change that behavior (Siegel, 2008).

References

CliffsNotes.com. (2011). “Theories of Deviance”. Cliffs Notes. Web.

Siegel, L.J.(2008).Criminology. Farmington Hills, MI: Cengage Learning.

Wilkins, L. (2003).Social Deviance: Social Policy, Action and Research. New York, NY: Routledge.

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