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Social reaction (labeling) theory

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  1. Erwin Lemert - Founder of Societal Reaction theory.
  2. Howard Becker - founder of modern labeling theory.
  3. Flaws in the main points of labeling theory.
  4. How labeling theory affects different portions of the populace - core variables.
    1. Audience learning of the crime being committed.
    2. audience's reaction to the act and treatment of the person who committed it.
    3. Personality of the individual undergoing stigmatization is irrelevant.
  5. Questions one must ask when evaluating any theory.
  6. Conclusion.

The social reaction, or labeling theory as it is sometimes known, evolved over time from as early as 1938 (Wellford, 1975). Basically it states that as a person commits a crime, they will receive the label of ?criminal?. When a person is labeled as such by society, they are likely to accept this label as a part of them. Because the person now thinks of him/herself as a criminal, he/she is now likely to continue in his/her criminal behavior (Becker, 1963).
Erwin Lemert is credited with being the founder of what is called the ?societal Reaction? theory. It is the precursor to the social reaction or labeling theory that we know now, and is necessary to be familiar with in order to understand labeling theory in its entirety.

Tags: Social reaction theory, Howard Becker's Labeling Theory, Social reaction theory in crime

[...] This theory has merit in that there is the potential for it to be incorporated into a larger, more inclusive, theory of criminology. References Becker, H. S. (1963). Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance. New York: The Free Press Broadhead, R. S. (1974). A Theoretical Critique of the Societal Reaction Approach to Deviance. The Pacific Sociological Review, Vol No 287- 312. Foster, J. D., Dinitz, S. & Reckless, W. C. (1972). Perceptions of Stigma following Public Intervention for Delinquent Behavior. [...]


[...] Also the theory claims that for a criminal to be successfully labeled an audience must be present to provide a reaction to the crimes committed. What about all the crimes committed that no one but the criminal is ever aware of? Does this mean that if a murder is committed where the killer successfully avoided anyone's suspicion that the act is then not criminal and the killer will not think of him/herself as such? It should be noted that this would not be a problem if the criminal were capable of initial self-labeling, but the theory clearly states the labeling must come from a 3rd party (Hagan, 1973). [...]

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