Asses the Usefullness of Labelling Theory

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Sociology Essay – ‘Assess the usefulness of labeling theory to an understanding of deviance’.


Labelling theory suggests that deviancy is a social process usually related to power differences but it doesn’t explain the causes of crime. It does however explain why some people or actions are described as deviant, and can help in understanding crime and deviance. The labelling theory is very useful when trying to understand deviance.

Becker suggests that there is really no such thing as a deviant act. An act only becomes deviant when others perceive it as such. The application of a label to someone has significant consequences for how that person is treated by others and perceives him or herself.

Labelling can be said to be variable with the application of a label varying with diverse factors such as place, gender and age. This helps in our understanding of crime and deviance because the way people react to or see criminal or deviant acts may vary, for example homosexuality can be considered deviant too one person but normal to another. The labelling theory helps to understand deviance.

Labelling theorist explain that some people may have the power to reject a negative label, while others are unable to gain enough resources to deny the negative label and must accept it, causing harsh consequences in later life as they may live up to their label and be treated according to their label.

Becker explains that once an individual or group is labelled in a certain way others only see them in terms of that label, he calls this master status. It also causes the individual or group to see them in terms of the label. This may produce a self-fulfilling prophecy in which the label makes itself become true, they believe for example if a teacher at a school called one of their pupils useless and not wanted, the pupil my start to actually believe their useless. There are many stages in this process, which can help in understanding crime and deviance. When the...