Labelling Theory

Definitions in a given community are based on the reciprocal exchanges between its members, the central emphasis of this viewpoint. These thinkers claimed that the offender justice system is largely to blame for offender habits because influential people and the government facilitate it. Unlike other researchers of the period, these theories analyze offender habit and deviance through the lens of how people in the community respond to these problems. These theories based their reasoning on the idea that certain attempts to prevent crime via criminology are counterproductive as they could push offenders farther down the path of offender activity by giving them a negative spin. People gradually come to terms with their identities when the rest of the community starts to treat them differently based on those labels. In those other terms, when someone acts in a way considered abnormal by society, they are labeled as a deviation, and gradually, they embrace this tag as part of who they are.

What does Labelling Theory Explains?

The idea of labeling posits that now the labels we use to describe people and groups in civilization have real, habitual consequences. Anthropology, forensics, and neuroscience have all shown that stereotyping a person as a robber may harm their habit, lending credence to this idea. The argument posits that after a person has been designated an offender by the community due to their aberrant conduct, they may be subjected to unfair treatment by the general populace. As a result of being labeled a thief, a person may be subjected to prejudice and hostility from the general public. As a result, he or she may turn to offender activity. The purpose of symbolic interactionism is to demonstrate that people's negative social identities might influence their habits. This raises the possibility that the being may resort to crime.

Components of Labelling Theory

Major components of labelling theory are −


The notion of labeling is a powerful tool for studying offenders and antisocial habits. The starting point is the idea that nothing is inherently wrong with doing anything. Those in authority define crime via the enactment of regulations and the application of those rules thru the judicial system, the policeman, and the penal system. Therefore, the deviation is not a collection of traits shared by a certain class or team of characters but rather an ongoing series of steps for the mutual influence of offenders and law-abiding citizens. Norms, as well as deviations, are upheld as well as defined by law enforcement, the judicial system, and the educational system. These authorities strengthen the social order by the practice of labeling and categorizing beings as normal or abnormal.

Deviance is often expressed by the privileged for the underprivileged, males for women, and the elderly again for the young, as well as the mainstream for the minority. What this means is that the dominant social groups are the ones who come up with and assign aberrant designations to the minority groups. Sometimes kids, for instance, go into neighboring yards to play or sneak into stores to grab candy. Families, educators, and law enforcement in more privileged areas tend to see these actions as a regular adolescent poor habit. However, identical actions may be seen as indicators of poor juvenile habits in low-income communities. There is strong evidence here to imply that social status influences labeling.

  • Primary − Primary deviance is defined as a participant's first deviant activities that have little effect on their social standing and interpersonal connections. The idea is that most people will participate in offender or otherwise aberrant habits at some point in their lives. However, since these transgressions are not very significant, neither community nor even the person will label them as offenders. It is possible to conduct offenders without labeling them; racing is an excellent example. In addition, many of us would point to marijuana usage for recreational activities as yet another illustration.

  • Secondary − Furthermore, secondary deviance is a deviation that develops after the person engaged in the discriminatory practices is stigmatized by society. Internalized transgression, in contrast to deviant habit, has serious consequences for a patient's social standing and interpersonal connections.


Although there is no proof that Black children disobey more often than white children, studies indicate that they are disciplined more regularly and brutally in schools. Likewise, African Americans are disproportionately killed by police compared to whites, particularly when they are defenseless and still have not done anything wrong. This discrepancy indicates that persons of color are more likely to be incorrectly labeled offenders due to pervasive racial prejudices. It is tough to undo the stigma of being labeled a delinquent, and the person acquires an offender record, and the general public is less inclined to believe in them. A being's offender record may make it difficult for them to obtain gainful work after they have been released from custody.

Critics of Labelling Theory

Labeling theory has been criticized for neglecting variations in socialization, attitude, and opportunity as potential causes of antisocial habits. Additionally, they state that the link between labels and an elevation in deviance needs to be more conclusive. Connecting with other offenders increases the likelihood that a former inmate may be offered new chances to engage in offender habits and return to jail. Probably contributing to readmission is being labeled as a crime and having more interactions with certain other offenders.


However, offending is a deviation that develops after the person engaged in the abhorrent habit is stigmatized by society. Even after accounting for prior aberrant habits, this model says that labeling will still differ by status traits. Therefore, the argument against labeling theory is driven by the fact that it does not insist that status qualities are the primary factor in labeling. A supplementary deviant is someone who has already been labeled as a deviant, has access to favorable chances, and has a flawed conception of themselves. It is worth remembering, meanwhile, that certain communities might be more at risk. Neither have the published papers produced evidence for nor against interactionism; rather, and it has only focused on potential deviation while providing a detailed analysis of the procedure. In contrast to primary deviance, Ance is a direct outcome of internalizing the deviant designation and has far-reaching consequences for a human's standing and connections in the community.