Labeling Theory Essay, Research Paper
Can Critical Perspective Explain Crime?
Many psychologists and sociologists have spent years trying to ascertain why criminals continue to commit crimes, and why certain prevention tactics still do not deter crime. There are two theories that became very prominent in the sixties, as to some of the reasons surrounding criminals, these theories are known as the labeling theory and the conflict theory. The two theories do very well in showing some of the problems that our legal system has today, and some of the solutions to possibly solve this problem. What really needs to be looked into though is our criminal justice system and whether it is hurting or helping.
Tannenbaum, a sociologist in the 1800s, developed the labeling theory whose ideas revolved around the dramatization of evil. The theory started to develop in the 1930s finally, but it was not really applied until the 1960s. It was popularized by a well-known sociologist, Howard Becker. He started with the idea that deviance is relative to social or group norms and not inherently characteristic of certain human acts or people. The theory discusses that labeling begins in ones childhood. The way in which children are punished by their parents or teachers begins to show them what society thinks about them, foreshadowing a future of deviance. The theory tells of two different types of deviance, primary and secondary, which were developed by Edwin Lemert. Primary deviance is something that everyone possesses; no matter what in some way everyone is deviant. There is no one that can go his or her whole life without doing something selfish or untruthful. Secondary deviance states that this is the point where they have gone beyond primary and they are now being labeled as deviant. Once they have been labeled they begin to think that they really are this way, and they begin to hang around the crowds that are deviant, creating more behavior out of the norms of society. Becker stated:
Social groups create deviance by making the rules whose infraction constitutes deviance. Deviance is not a quality of the act the person commits, but rather a consequence of the application by others of rules and sanctions to an offender. The deviant is one to whom that label has successfully been applied; deviant behavior is behavior that people so label.
The Conflict theory has very similar characteristics to that of the labeling theory. When one is looked at the other is looked at with it. The conflict theory looks more towards the state. It evaluates the people who create the state and for whom the laws are really trying to protect and serve. This theory really calls into question our assumptions about the law s fairness. Chambliss and other conflict theorists argue that inequality in law and norm enforcement is a major social problem. They argue that it is inevitable and cannot be completely eliminated. However, they also argue that the scope of the problem can be reduced. At least three steps they fell are necessary. The first is to make things like prostitution, gambling, and other vice crimes legal. Regulate them like the sale and distribution of alcohol is regulated. By legalizing these society would reduce the likelihood the police and other officials would become corrupt. The second step is through reform of election laws and the electoral process. Specifically, Chambliss believes that big money should not influence the outcomes of public elections. He maintains that campaign finance reform is a necessity if the society seeks to eliminate the process by which powerful persons and groups influence the decisions and politics of elected officials. In order to ensure that society s laws are enforced fairly and that officials do not become tools of powerful groups in the society, elections must be conducted in a manner where candidates do not receive massive donations from private parties or groups. Campaign donations are just another part of the political influence that sways too much in our society today. The third and final step is for government agencies to be more effectively monitored. Chambliss believes that citizen groups, with little or nothing to gain, must play a more active role in ensuring that government is fair and does protect some groups in the society more than others. These citizen groups must be independent and be capable of overseeing and regulating the actions of law enforcement officers and other public officials.
The state is constantly labeling and monitoring people. Power has controlled overall, no matter what people like to think. Money does equal power and those people control what many politicians think and feel. If those people label a child who stole a car at the age of fourteen, a criminal, and he grows up constantly hearing this, the likeliness is that he will continue being a criminal. White-collar criminals are constantly being defended under the laws; they are the educated men and women who have the connections to never spend a day in jail. For example Barry Goetz s article, Arson for Profit, in which he discusses the burning of buildings in poorer areas, and the constant blame put on the poor. The problem is people are doing nothing about the fact that the poor are always getting blamed for everything because they are good scapegoats. It no longer seems that the state is trying to deter crime, but make the rest of society happy by labeling the groups in society that the people of power want them to label. These people have been given no opportunity to better themselves, so they fall into the trap perfectly set for them.
When it comes to looking into the criminal justice system and taking it part to look at all the inner workings, it s very interesting what really lies inside the walls. The best example that I can come up with is my own experiences. This past summer I worked for the immigration department, in downtown Buffalo. It was here that I saw how little some people matter in society, within my job description it was actually written that I was allowed to discriminate against aliens. In a country where government leaders constantly preach about equality for all, it is apparent that many times the government does not practice what it preaches.