Posted on Leave a comment

Jailing Drill Musicians – justified, or a moral panic?

In January two ‘drill’ musicians from the Brixton group 410 were effectively jailed for playing a particular song: ‘Attempted 1.0’. Two artists from the group, Skengdo and AM, both received 9-month suspended sentences for performing this song.

Here it is with lyrics:

It’s still up as of 20th Feb…. I don’t how much longer it will remain up, but while it does it’ll give you a pretty good idea of what the authorities may have deemed to offensive: the strap-line for a start… ‘attempted… should’ve been a murder’ and then all the various references to guns and people getting knifed.

The problem is, by performing this song 410 weren’t technically engaged in an illegal act. The laws preventing inciting of violence only apply to specific acts, and this is not the case with this song.

The two artists were actually found guilty of breaking a criminal behaviour order (CB0) that had forbidden them from mentioning death, injury or rival drill crews in their songs. The nine-month suspended sentence is for breaking the CBO not inciting violence, which they weren’t technically doing by performing their song.

The authorities have criminalised this non-criminal act for these particular artists.

Relevance to A-level sociology

This is a good example of a ‘right realist’ policy in action – In fairness to the authorities, there has been a recent increase in knife crime, and this is all part of the response to that. I imagine most of the public would agree with this harsh treatment.

And it’s fair to say that some Drill songs which have been put up on YouTube do have specific references to gang’s ‘score cards’ and specific knife and gun and attacks. So there is a real basis for all of this it’s not just hyperreal. 

Moral Panic Drill.png

However, it also relates to the labelling theory of crime – here we have a legal act (performing a song) which is turned into an illegal act for this specific band by the actions of the authorities. Maybe this is an unnecessary moral panic about this form of artistic expression?

What ‘blaming Drill’ for the increase in knife crime fails to take account of is all of other underlying factors which result in inner city violence – such as funding cuts, relative deprivation, poverty, and structural inequalities which stretch back to the 1980s. 

This is also a new development in the censorship of particular cultural forms: using ASBOs to effectively restrict certain forms of freedom of speech. What’s next I wonder:

– Banning violent video games?
– Preventing campaigners discuss poverty and inequality?
– or climate change?

It’s highly unlikely that Criminal Behaviour Orders are going to be used to stop people spreading Fake News or Politicians lying to us.

Sources

The Guardian

Vice – A nice article on the moral panic over Drill. 

Advertisements
Posted on 1 Comment

The legalisation of Pot in California

California has become (in January 2018) the 6th state in America to legalize the sale of marijuana for recreational use, following a 2016 referendum of Californian residents.

legalisation pot

This has clearly been a popular change in the law for some: In Berkeley, queues of people snaked around the block from 6 a.m. (odd time to be buying weed?) to late into the evening as one the first dispensaries to open struggled to cope with demand, suggesting that there are eventually going to be many licensed venues selling legal weed.

However, there are those that are opposed to the legalization of marijuana movement, the most powerful being the entire Trump administration, who are looking for ways to derail those 6 states which have legalized the drug.

Comments/m relevance to A level Sociology

This whole issue is a great example of how ‘crime is socially constructed‘ – you can quite literally hope over from California into the state of Arizona while smoking a joint and tada: you’re a criminal!

From a Functionalist point of view, it might be worth thinking about whether this is happening as a sort of ‘safety valve’ mechanism – there’s so much strain in America, and so many people already using drugs to cope with it, we may as well legalize it because it’s easier for the system to cope with it, and focus more on the ‘real criminals’.

 

 

 

Posted on Leave a comment

Playing the SENCO Game…

According to the latest Department for Education data, the number of pupils receiving extra time in exams in England and Wales has increased by 35.8% since 2013/14.

However, at the same time there has been a 20.4% decrease in pupils identified as having Special Education Needs.

This represents a real terms 4 year increase of 51.2% of pupils receiving extra time, relative to those pupils identified as SEN (which should give us an indication of the underlying ‘pool’ of pupils who are potentially eligible for extra time.

Here’s the statistics (full sources below)

SEN pupils

So what’s going on here? How do we explain this?

This Telegraph article points to the fact that a disproportionate amount of the increase in pupils receiving extra time is driven by kids (or rather parents) in Independent schools…they are twice as likely to receive extra time as kids in state funded schools.

This alone has to push you towards a combination of cultural capital theory and labelling theory in explaining what’s going on here – it’s extremely unlikely that kids in Independent schools have objectively (i.e. really) suddenly become more in need of extra time, relative to kids in state schools – and as the article alludes to, it’s probably down to middle class parents getting their kids assessed for extra time (and maybe those kids gaming the system?)

NB – the number of kids in state schools receiving extra time in exams has also increased, but not as fast as those in independent schools. (Might be interesting to subject this to regional analysis to see if it’s linked to income?)

VERY INTERESTINGLY, if you dig into the Access Arrangements data below, this aspect of the data doesn’t exist from the DFES (I assume it did once, otherwise said article wouldn’t have been written)

As to the increasing number of kids receiving extra time AT THE SAME TIME AS A DECREASE IN KIDS WITH SEN – this might reflect a polarisation – i.e. objectively there are fewer kids with ‘more serious’ SEN that require such exam concessions, but overall there are fewer kids with any SEN…

HOWEVER, once you dig even deeper into the stats below, what do you find…

Statemented kids are on the increase within state funded schools (where you get Pupil Premium for taking on statemented kids), while non statemented SEN kids are on the decrease (which you don’t get funding for, but you have to spend school resources on to keep OFSTED happy)

Compared to Independent schools – Statemented kids are on the decrease, while non-statemented kids are on the increase – and how do we explain the difference – these schools don’t get extra money for taking on statemented SEN kids like state schools, while they can get their kids extra time by doing their own ‘in-house’ SEN assessment.

NB – this is only one possible interpretation, and I’m prepared to stand corrected if anyone wants to pull me up on my less than perfect understanding of SEN funding and access arrangement policy!

Sources of Data

SEN data

https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/special-educational-needs-in-england-january-2017

Access Arrangements

https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/access-arrangements-for-gcse-and-a-level-2016-to-2017-academic-year

Telegraph Article

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/2017/11/30/one-six-children-now-given-extra-time-public-exams-official/

Posted on Leave a comment

Will Britain ever have a Black Prime minister?

Will Britain Ever Have a Black Prime Minister? aired on the BBC IN 2017, which looked at the relative average life chances of a Black British child progressing through life… NB Thank you kindly to whoever uploaded this to You Tube (it won’t be there forever, the BBC have unjustly removed this from iPlayer already)

In the summary below I focus on some of the educational disadvantages black children face highlighted by the programme…

Teachers mark black children’s test scores more harshly than other ethnic groups

teacher racism evidence

For in-school test scores, the scores for black British students are consistently lower throughout schooling, until we get to the actual GCSE Results, when the scores of Black British students increase dramatically, with Black African students actually overtaking white British students.

The suggested explanation for this is that in school tests are marked by teachers who know their students and thus know their ethnicity, and that they have an unconscious bias against black students, and thus mark their test scores at a lower level, while GCSEs are marked independently – the markers do not know the students who sat them, and thus do not know their ethnicity: when the tests are marked in a neutral, unbiased way, the scores of black and white pupils are much closer together.

This is backed up by research conducted by Professor Simon Burgess which compared the results of test scores marked by teachers who knew the students sitting the tests (and hence their ethnicity) with the results of tests marked independently, where the markers did not know the ethnicity of the students who sat the tests: the results for some ethnic groups were lower when the teachers knew the ethnicity of the candidates, suggesting that there is an unconscious bias against certain ethnic groups.

A link to Professor Burgess’ (2009) research

This seems to be pretty damning evidence that teachers hold an unconscious bias against black students

Black students are less likely to get three As at A level than white students

Here we are told that….

  • Only 4% of black children get 3 As or more at A level, compared to…
  • 10% of white pupils
  • 28% of independent school pupils, who are disproportionately white.
  • In fact, the programme points out that you are more likely to be excluded from school if you are black than achieve 3 As at A-level

This seems to be less an example of evidence against black students, rather than evidence of the class-bias in A level results.

The Chances of being admitted to Oxford University are lower for black students compared to white students

The programme visits Oxford University, because every single Prime Minister (who has been to university) since 1937 has attended this bastion of privilege.

We are told that black applicants are less likely to be accepted into Oxford University than White students, even when they have the same 3 As as white students.

In an interview with Cameron Alexander, the then president of the African students union, he comes out and says that Oxford University is ‘institutionally racist’ and that structural factors explain the under-representation of black students – he points out the dominant culture of Oxford University is on of elite, white privilege, one in which staff identify more with independently schooled children, who have benefitted from the advantages of huge amounts of material and cultural capital; while they fail to identify with the hardships a black child from an inner city area may have faced – the result is that privileged white student has a higher change of being accepted into Oxford than a black student, even when they have the same grades as a the privileged white student.

As with the example of test scores above, at first glance this evidence seems damning, however, Oxford University has previously explained this by saying that black students have a higher rejection rate because they apply for harder courses on average than white students.

So what are the chances of a black person ever becoming Prime Minister…?

In short, a black person has a 17 million to 1 chance of becoming Prime Minister, compared to a 1 in 1.4 million chance for a white person…

black prime minister chances

Or in short… a black person is 12 times less likely to become Prime Minister in the U.K. compared to a white person…

life chances ethnicity

 

Postscript…

Unfortunately this programme has already disappeared from iPlayer, despite the fact that anyone in Britain with a T.V. has already paid for it, which is just bang out of order.

Posted on 11 Comments

Teacher Labelling and the self-fulfilling prophecy #class notes

The labels which teachers give to pupils can influence the construction and development of students’ identities, or self-concepts: how they see and define themselves and how they interact with others. This in turn can affect their attitudes towards school, their behaviour, and ultimately their level of achievement in education.

self fulfilling prophecy

 

Labelling refers to the process of defining a person or group in a simplified way – narrowing down the complexity of the whole person and fitting them into broad categories. At the simplest level labelling involves that first judgement you make about someone, often based on first-impressions – are they ‘worth making the effort to get to know more’, are you ‘indifferent to them’, or are they to ‘be avoided’.

According to labelling theory, teachers actively judge their pupils over a period of time, making judgments based on their behaviour in class, attitude to learning, previous school reports and interactions with them and their parents, and they eventually classifying their students according to whether they are ‘high’ or ‘low’ ability, ‘hard working’ or ‘lazy’, ‘naughty’ or ‘well-behaved’, ‘in need of support’ or ‘capable of just getting on with it’ (to give just a few possible categories, there are others!). (*See criticism one below).

According to a number of small-scale, interpretivist research studies of teacher labelling, the labels teachers give to students are sometimes based not on their behaviour but on a number of preconceived ideas teachers have about students based on their ethnic, gender or social class background, and thus labelling can be said to be grounded in stereotypes.

A closely related concept to labelling theory is the that of the self-fulfilling prophecy – where an individual accepts their label and the label becomes true in practice – for example, a student labelled as deviant actually becomes deviant as a response to being so-labelled.

Labelling theory is one of the main parts of social action, or interactionist theory, which seeks to understand human action by looking at micro-level processes, looking at social life through a microscope, from the ground-up.

Classic studies on teacher labelling in education 

Hargreaves Deviance in ClassroomsDavid Hargreaves et al (1975) in their classic book ‘Deviance in Classrooms’ analysed the ways in which students came to by typed, or labelled. Their study was based on interviews with secondary teachers and classroom observation in two secondary schools, focusing on how teachers ‘got to know their students’ entering the first year of the school.

Teachers have only a very limited idea about ‘who their students are’ as individuals when they first enter the school, based mainly on the area where they came from, and they thus have to build up an image of their students as the school year progresses. Hargreaves et al distinguished three stages of of typing or classification:

  1. Speculation
  2. Elaboration
  3. Stabilisation

In the first stage, that of speculation, the teachers make guesses about the types of student they are dealing with. The researchers noted that there were seven main criteria teachers used to type students:

  • their appearance
  • how far they conformed to discipline
  • their ability and enthusiasm for work
  • how likeable they were
  • their relationship with other children
  • their personality
  • whether they were deviant.

Hargreaves et al stress that in the speculation stage, teachers are tentative in their typing, and are willing to amend their views, nevertheless, they do form a working hypothesis, or a theory about with sort of child each student is.

In the elaboration phase, each hypothesis is tested and either confirmed or contradicted, and through this process the typing of each student is refined.

When the third stage, stabilisation, is reached, the teacher feels that ‘he knows’ the students and finds little difficulty in making sense of their actions, which will be interpreted in light of the general type of student the teacher thinks they are. Some students will be regarded as deviant and it will be difficult for any of their future actions to be regarded in a positive light.

Labelling and Social Class

A lot of the early, classic studies on labelling focused on how teachers label according to indicators of social class background, not the actual ability of the student. 

Research in one American Kindergarten by Ray C. Rist (1970) suggested that the process of labelling is not only much more abrupt than suggested by Hargreaves et al, but also that it is heavily influenced by social class.

Rist found that new students coming into the Kindergarten were grouped onto three tables – one for the ‘more able’, and the other two for the ‘less able’, and that students had been split into their respective tables by day eight of their early-school career. He also found that teachers made their judgments not necessarily on any evidence of ability, but on appearance (whether they were neat and tidy) and whether they were known to have come from an educated, middle class family (or not).

Labelling Theory and the Self Fulfilling Prophecy 

Self Fulling Prophecy Theory argues that predictions made by teachers about the future success or failure of a student will tend to come true because that prediction has been made. Thus if a student is labelled a success, they will succeed, if they are labelled a failure, the will fail.

The reasons for this are as follows (you might call these the positive effects of labelling):

  • teachers will push students they think are brighter harder, and not expect as much from students they have labelled as less-able.
  • Building on the above point, a positive label is more likely to result in a good student being put into a higher band, and vice versa for a student pre-judged to be less able.
  • Positively labelled students are more likely to develop positive attitude towards studying, those negatively labelled an anti-school attitude.
  • The above may be reinforced by peer-group identification.

It follows that in labelling theory, the students attainment level is, at least to some degree,  a result of the interaction between the teacher and the pupil, rather than just being about their ability.

A classic study which supports the self fulfilling prophecy theory was Rosenthal and Jacobson’s (1968) study of an elementary school in California. They selected a random sample of 20% of the student population and informed teachers that these students could be expected to achieve rapid intellectual development.

They tested all students at the beginning of the experiment for IQ, and again after one year, and found that the RANDOMLY SELECTED ‘spurter’ group had, on average, gained more IQ than the other 80%, who the teachers believed to be ‘average’. They also found that the report cards for the 20% group showed that the teachers believed this group had made greater advances in reading.

Rosenthal and Jacobson speculated that the teachers had passed on their higher expectations to students which had produced a self-fulfilling prophecy.

 

Criticisms of the labelling theory of education

  1. Negative labelling can sometimes have the opposite effect – Margaret Fuller’s (1984) research on black girls in a London comprehensive school found that the black girls she researched were labelled as low-achievers, but their response to this negative labelling was to knuckle down and study hard to prove their teachers and the school wrong.
  2. Given the above findings it should be no surprise that the Rosenthal and Jacobson research has been proved unreliable – other similar experimental studies reveal no significant effects.
  3. Labelling theory attributes too much importance to ‘teacher agency’ (the autonomous power of teachers to influence and affect pupils) – structural sociologists might point out that schools themselves encourage teachers to label students – in some cases entry tests, over which teachers have no control, pre-label students into ability groups anyway, and the school will require the teacher to demonstrate that they are providing ‘extra support’ for the ‘low ability’ students as judged by the entry tes.
  4. One has to question whether teachers today actually label along social class lines. Surely teachers are among the most sensitively trained professionals in the world, and in the current ‘aspirational culture’ of education, it’s difficult to see how teachers would either label in such a way, or get away with it if they did.

Future Post: More Recent Research on Labelling Theory 

Waterhouse (2004), in case studies of four primary and secondary schools, suggests that teacher labelling of pupils as either normal/ average or deviant types, as a result of impressions formed over time, has implications for the way teachers interact with pupils.

Once these labels are applied and become the dominant categories for pupils, they can become what Waterhouse called a ‘pivotal identity’ for students – a core identity providing a pivot which teachers use to interpret and reinterpret classroom events and student behaviour.

For example, a student who has the pivotal identity of ‘normal’ is likely to have an episode of deviant behaviour interpreted as unusual, or as a ‘temporary phase’ – something which will shortly end, thus requiring no significant action to be taken; whereas as a student who has the pivotal identity of ‘deviant’ will have periods of ‘good behaviour’ treated as unusual, something which is not expected to last, and thus not worthy of recognition.

Sources

Haralambos and Holborn (2013) Sociology Themes and Perspectives.

Posted on 2 Comments

In-School Processes in Education: Knowledge Check List

Main Sub Topics

The Interactionist Perspective – Introduces the topic area, make sure you can explain the difference between Interactionism and Structural Theories

School Ethos and The Hidden Curriculum

  • The School Ethos
  • The Hidden Curriculum

Teacher Stereotyping and the halo effect

  • The ideal pupil
  • Labelling and the Self Fulfilling Prophecy

Banding, streaming and setting

  • Definitions of banding/ streaming setting
  • Summaries of evidence on the effects of banding etc
  • Unequal access to classroom knowledge

Educational triage

  • Gilborn and Youdell’s work focusing on the significance of league tables and ‘writing off students who have no chance of passing

Student responses to the experience of schooling: school subcultures

  • Differentiation and Polarisation
  • Pro-School subcultures
  • Anti-school (or counter-school) subcultures =
  • Between pro and anti-school subcultures: a range of responses

Evaluations of in-school processes

  • Determinism (labelling)
  • Evidence based on micro processes (generaliseablity?)
  • Out of school more important (90% of the difference)

 

Selected concepts and research studies you need to know
·         Labelling theory and the self-fulfilling prophecy

·         Banding and Streaming

·         Subcultures

·         The Hidden Curriculum

·         School Ethos

·         Educational Triage

·         Deterministic

·         Gilborn and Youdell

·         However Becker

·         Stephen Ball

·         Rosenthal and Jacobson

·         Paul Willis

Selected short answer questions
Outline three ways in which the curriculum might be ethnocentric (6)

Outline two criticisms of labelling theory (4)

Using material from item A, analyse two ways in which the hidden curriculum may disadvantage working class students (10)

Selected Essay Questions

Evaluate the view that it is mainly in-school processes which explain differential education achievement across different groups in society (30)

Research Studies on In-School Processes

You are expected to be able to cite named research when looking at ‘in school processes’ in an essay – below are some studies we’ve looked at already, you should know these….

Research on Teacher Labelling and pupil responses

 

1.    Howard Becker – Labelling and the Ideal Pupil

2.    Rosenthal and Jacobsen – The Self Fulfilling Prophecy (p104)

3.    David Gilborn and Cecile Wright – Found that teachers had ‘racialised expectations’ (in ethnicity hand-out

4.    Heidi Mirza (p119)  – found that there were’ three types’ of teacher racism…. And that black girls had to adopt particular strategies for dealing with this

5.    Research has also shown that teachers label boys and girls differently…. (in gender hand-out)

6.    NB – Margaret Fuller (p118) – found that not all pupils accept their labels

 

Research on Peer Pressure and Pupil Subcultures

 

7.    Paul Willis – The Counter School Culture

8.    Mac an Ghail – found there were a variety of ‘class based subcultures’… (in class hand-out)

9.    Becky Francis – found that boys were more likely to adopt ‘laddish subcultures’ (in gender hand-out)

10. Louis Archer also found that working class girls’ ‘style subcultures’ can come into conflict with the school….(in gender hand-out)

11. Tony Sewell – notes that although there is a distinct ‘anti-school culture’ amongst some African- Caribbean boys, but there are also a wider variety of African- Caribbean subcultures (p119)

 

 

Research on Banding and Streaming
1.    Stephen Ball’s 1960s work on banding in beachside comprehensive showed that…. (class hand-out

2.    Gilborn and Youdell Found that there is an ‘A-C Economy’…. (ethnicity hand-out)

 

Research on School Ethos and the Hidden Curriculum
1.    Feminists argue that Gender Regimes still exist…(this and below both in gender hand-out

2.    School Ethos can have an effect on how boys express their masculinity – independent schools tend to have fewer problems with laddish subcultures than schools in poorer areas…

3.    Stephen Strand argued that ‘institutional racism’ exists in schools

 

Posted on Leave a comment

Labelling Theory of Crime – A Summary

People do not become criminals because of their social background, crime emerges because of labelling by authorities. Crime is the product of interactions between certain individuals and the police, rather than social background.

NB these are very brief summary notes, for a much more in-depth post on everything below please see my main post on the labelling theory of crime.

Crime is Sociology Constructed

  • There is no such thing as an inherently deviance act

  • Howard Becker (1963) “Deviancy is not a quality of the act a person commits, but rather a consequences of the application by others of rules and sanctions to an ‘offender’.”

  • Becker – The Outsiders – Malinowski – Incest example

  • Applies to drugs – compare illegal ‘legal’ highs UK to legal weed in Colorado

Not everyone who is deviant gets labelled as such

  • Whether an actor is labelled as deviant depends on: their interactions with the police, their background/ appearance, the circumstances of the offence.

  • negative labels (deviant/ criminal) are generally given to the powerless by the powerful.

  • Cicourel – first stage – working class kids more likely to be labelled as deviant by police; second stage – more likely to be prosecuted by courts, most of this is based on appearance and language, not the deviant act.

Labelling has real consequences – it can lead to deviancy amplification, the self-fulfilling prophecy and deviant careers

  • Lemert – primary and secondary deviance

  • Becker – labelling, the deviant career and the master status

  • Labelling theory applied to education – the self-fulfilling prophecy

  • Moral panics, folk devils and deviancy amplification

Labelling theory should promote policies that prevent labelling minor acts as deviant

  • Decriminalisation (of drugs for example)

  • Reintegrative shaming to label the act, not the criminal.

Evaluations

Positive

Negative

Labelling theory emphasises the following:

– That the law is not ‘set in stone’ – it is actively constructed and changes over time

– That law enforcement is often discriminatory

– That we cannot trust crime statistics

– That attempts to control crime can backfire and may make the situation worse

– That agents of social control may actually be one of the major causes of crime, so we should think twice about giving them more power.

– It tends to be determinstic, not everyone accepts their labels

– It assumes offenders are just passive – it doesn’t recognise the role of personal choice in committing crime

– It gives the offender a ‘victim status’ – Realists argue that this perspective actually ignores the actual victims of crime.

– It tends to emphasise the negativesides of labelling rather than the positive side

– It fails to explain why acts of primary deviance exist, focussing mainly on secondary deviance.

– Structural sociologists argue that there are deeper, structural explanations of crime, it isn’t all just a product of labelling and interactions.

Posted on Leave a comment

The Labelling Theory of Crime

The labelling Theory of Crime is associated with Interactionism – the Key ideas are that crime is socially constructed, agents of social control label the powerless as deviant and criminal based on stereotypical assumptions and this creates effects such as the self-fulfilling prophecy, the criminal career and deviancy amplification.

Interactionists argue that people do not become criminals because of their social background, but rather argue that crime emerges because of labelling by authorities. They see crime as the product of micro-level interactions between certain individuals and the police, rather than the result of external social forces such as socialisation or blocked opportunity structures.

Four Key concepts associated with Interactionist theories of deviance

  1. Crime is Sociology Constructed – An act which harms an individual or society else only becomes criminal if those in power label that act as criminal.

  1. Not everyone who is deviant gets labelled as such – negative labels are generally (deviant/ criminal) are generally given to the powerless by the powerful.

  1. Labelling has real consequences – it can lead to deviancy amplification, the self-fulfilling prophecy and deviant careers.

  1. Labelling theory has a clear ‘value position’ – it should aim to promote policies that prevent labelling minor acts as deviant.

1- Crime is Socially Constructed

Rather than taking the definition of crime for granted, labelling theorists are interested in how certain acts come to be defined or labelled as criminal in the first place.

Interactionists argue that there is no such thing as an inherently deviant act – in other words there is nothing which is deviant in itself in all situations and at all times, certain acts only become deviant in certain situations when others label them as deviant. Deviance is not a result of an act or an individual being ‘uniquely different’, deviance is a product of society’s reaction to actions.

Howard Becker - labelling theorist

As Howard Becker* (1963) puts it – “Deviancy is not a quality of the act a person commits, but rather a consequences of the application by others of rules and sanctions to an ‘offender’. Deviant behaviour is behaviour that people so label.” (*The main theorist within labelling theory)

Howard Becker illustrates how crime is the product of social interactions by using the example of a fight between young people. In a low-income neighbourhood, a fight is more likely to be defined by the police as evidence of delinquency, but in a wealthy area as evidence of high spirits. The acts are the same, but the meanings given to them by the audience (in this case the public and the police) differ. Those who have the power to make the label stick thus create deviants or criminals.

Becker provides a more extreme example in his book The Outsiders (1963) – in this he draws on a simple illustration of an anthropological study by anthropologist Malinowski who describes how a youth killed himself because he hand been publicly accused of incest. When Malinowski had first inquired about the case, the islanders expressed their horror and disgust. But, on further investigation, it turned out that incest was not uncommon on the island, nor was it really frowned upon provided those involved were discrete. However, if an incestuous affair became too obvious and public, the islanders reacted with abuse and the offenders were ostracised and often driven to suicide.

To be clear – in the above example, everyone knows that incest goes on, but if people are too public about it (and possibly if they are just disliked for whatever reason) they get publicly shamed for being in an incestuous relationship.

You could apply the same thinking to criminal behaviour more generally in Britain – According to a recent 2015 survey of 2000 people, the average person in Britain breaks the law 17 ties per year, with 63% admitting speeding, 33% steeling and 25% taking illegal drugs – clearly the general public is tolerant of ‘ordinary’ deviance – but every now and then someone will get spotted doing ‘ordinary’ criminal activities and publicly shamed.

labelling theory and drugs

All of this has led labelling theorists to look at how and why rules and laws get made – especially the role of what Becker calls ‘moral entrepreneurs’, people who lead a moral crusade to change the law in the belief that it will benefit those to whom it is applied. However, according to Interactionists, when new laws are created, they simply create new groups of outsiders and lead to the expansion of social control agencies such as the police, and such campaigns may do little to change the underlying amount of ‘deviant activity’ taking place.

In summary – deviance is not a quality that lies in behaviour itself, but in the interaction between the person who commits an act and those who respond to it. From this point of view, deviance is produced by a process of interaction between the potential deviant and the wider public (both ordinary people and agencies of social control).

Application of the concept of ‘social constructionism’ to drug crime

Looking at how drug laws have changed over time, and how they vary from country to country to country is a very good way of looking at how the deviant act of drug-taking is socially constructed…

In the United Kingdom, a new law was recently passed which outlawed all legal highs, meaning that many ‘head-shops’ which sold them literally went from doing something legal to illegal over night (obviously they had plenty of notice!)

Meanwhile – in some states in America, such as Colorado, things seem to be moving in the other direction – it is now legal to grow, sell and smoke Weed – meaning that a whole new generation of weed entrepreneurs have suddenly gone from doing something illegal to something legal, and profitable too!

NB – There’s a lot more information about the social construction of drug use out there – think about the difference between coffee, nicotine, alcohol (all legal) and cannabis. 

Discussion Question

Do you agree with the idea that there is no such thing as an inherently deviance act? Work your way through the list of deviance acts below and try to think of contexts in which they would not be regarded as deviant.

– Violence

– Theft

– Fraud

– Drug taking

– Public nudity

– Paedophilia

– Vandalism

2 – Not Everyone Who is Deviant Gets Labelled

Those in Power are just as deviant/ criminal as actual ‘criminals’ but they are more able to negotiate themselves out of being labelled as criminals.

NB to my mind the classic song by NWA ‘Fuck Tha Police’ is basically highlighting the fact that it’s young black males in the US that typically get labelled as criminals (while young white kids generally don’t)

Back to Labelling theory proper – the key idea here is that not everyone who commits an offence is punished for it. Whether a person is arrested, charged and convicted depends on factors such as:

    1. Their interactions with agencies of social control such as the police and the courts
    1. Their appearance, background and personal biography
  1. The situation and circumstances of the offence.

This leads labelling theorists to look at how laws are applied and enforced. Their studies show that agencies of social control are more likely to label certain groups of people as deviant or criminal.

The main piece of sociological research relevant here is Aaron Cicourel’s ‘Power and The Negotiation of Justice’ (1968)

Aaron Cicourel – Power and the negotiation of justice

The process of defining a young person as a delinquent is complex, and it involves a series of interactions based on sets of meanings held by the participants. Cicourel argues that it is the meanings held by police officers and juvenile officers that explain why most delinquents come from working class backgrounds.

The first stage is the decision by the police to stop and interrogate an individual. This decision is based on meanings held by the police of what is ‘strange’, ‘unusual’ and ‘wrong’. Whether or not the police stop and interrogate an individual depends on where the behaviour is taking place and on how the police perceive the individual(s). Whether behaviour is deemed to be ‘suspicious’ will depend on where the behaviour is taking place, for example an inner city, a park, a suburb. If a young person has a demeanour like that of a ‘typical delinquent’ then the police are more likely to both interrogate and arrest that person.

The Second Stage is that the young person is handed over to a juvenile delinquent officer. This officer will have a picture of a ‘typical delinquent’ in his mind. Factors associated with a typical delinquent include being of dishevelled appearance, having poor posture, speaking in slang etc. It follows that Cicourel found that most delinquents come from working class backgrounds.

When middle class delinquents are arrested they are less likely to be charged with the offence as they do not fit the picture of a ‘typical delinquent’. Also, their parents are more able to present themselves as respectable and reasonable people from a nice neighbourhood and co-operate fully with the juvenile officers, assuring them that their child is truly remorseful.

As a result, the middle class delinquent is more likely to be defined as ill rather than criminal, as having accidentally strayed from the path of righteousness just the once and having a real chance of reforming.

Cicourel based his research on two Californian cities, each with a population of about 100, 000. both had similar social characteristics yet there was a significant difference in the amount of delinquents in each city. Cicourel argued that this difference can only be accounted for by the size, organisation, policies and practices of the juvenile and police bureaus. It is the societal reaction that affects the rate of delinquency. It is the agencies of social control that produce delinquents.

Discussion Questions

Q1 – Do you agree that the whole criminal justice system is basically biased against the working classes, and towards to middle classes?

Q2 – From a research methods point of view, what research methods could you use to test this theory?

3 – The Consequences of Labelling

Labelling theorists are interested in the effects of labelling on those labelled. They claim that, by labelling certain people as criminal or deviant, society actually encourages them to become more so.

In this section I cover:

    • Primary and Secondary Deviance (Edwin Lemert)
    • The Deviant Career, the Master Status and Subcultures (Howard Becker)
    • Labelling and the Self-Fulling Prophecy applied to education (Howard Becker and Rosenthal and Jacobson)
  • Labelling theory applied to the Media – Moral Panics, Folk Devils and Deviancy Amplification (Stan Cohen)

If the material below seems a little samely – that’s because it’s all subtle variations on the same theme!

Primary and Secondary Deviance

Edwin Lemert (1972) developed the concepts of primary and secondary deviance to emphasise the fact that everyone engages in deviant acts, but only some people are caught being deviant and labelled as deviant.

Primary deviance refers to acts which have not been publicly labelled, and are thus of little consequence, while secondary deviance refers to deviance which is the consequence of the response of others, which is significant.

To illustrate this, Lemert studied the the coastal Inuit of Canada, who had a long-rooted problem of chronic stuttering or stammering. Lemert suggested that the problem was ’caused’ by the great importance attached to ceremonial speech-making. Failure to speak well was a great humiliation. Children with the slightest speech difficulty were so conscious of their parents’ desire to have well-speaking children that they became over anxious about their own abilities. It was this anxiety which lead to chronic stuttering.

Lemert compared the coastal Inuit which emphasised the importance of public speaking to other similar cultures in the area which did not attach status to public-speaking, and found that in such culture, stuttering was largely non-existence, thus Lemert concluded that it was the social pressure to speak well (societal reaction) which led to some people developing problems with stuttering

In this example, chronic stuttering (secondary deviance) is a response to parents’ reaction to initial minor speech defects (primary deviance).

Labelling, The Deviant Career and the Master Status

This is Howard Becker’s classic statement of how labelling theory can be applied across the whole criminal justice system to demonstrated how criminals emerge, possibly over the course of many years. Basically the public, the police and the courts selectively label the already marginalised as deviant, which the then labelled deviant responds to by being more deviant.

Howard Becker argued that the deviant label can become a ‘master status’ in which the individual’s deviant identity overrules all other identities. Becker argues that there are 5 stages in this process:

  1. The Individual is publicly labelled as a deviant, which may lead to rejection from several social groups. For example, if someone is labelled a junkie they may be rejected by their family.

  1. This may encourage further deviance. For example, drug addicts may turn to crime to finance their habit.

  1. The official treatment of deviance may have similar effects. EG convicted criminals find it difficult to find jobs.

  1. A deviant career may emerge. The deviant career is completed when individuals join an organised deviant group. This is the stage when an individual confirms and accepts their deviant identity.

  1. This is the stage at which the label may become a master status, overriding all other forms of relationship outside the deviant group.

Labelling Theory Applied to Education

Labelling theory has been applied to the context of the school to explain differences in educational achievement (this should sound familiar from year 1!)

Within Schools, Howard Becker (1970) argued that middle class teachers have an idea of an ‘ideal pupil’ that is middle class. This pupil speaks in elaborated speech code, is polite, and smartly dressed, He argued that middle class teachers are likely view middle class pupils more positively than working class pupils irrespective of their intelligence. Thus teachers positively label the students most like them.

There is also evidence of a similar process happening with African Caribbean children. Sociologists such as David Gilborn argue that teachers hold negative stereotypes of young black boys, believing them to be more threatening and aggressive than White and Asian children. They are thus more likely to interpret minor rule breaking by black children in a more serious manner than when White and Asian children break minor rules.

Rosenthal and Jacobsen (1968) argued that positive teacher labelling can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy in which the student believes the label given to them and the label becomes true in practise. They concluded this on the basis of a classic ‘Field Experiment’ to test the effects of teacher labels, which consisted of the following:

  • Stage one – tested the IQ (intelligence) of all pupils in the school

  • Stage two – gave teachers a list of the top 20% most intelligent pupils. However, this list was actually just a random selection of student names

  • Stage three –One year later those students who teachers believed to be the most intelligent had improved the most.

  • Stage four –Concluded that high teacher expectation had resulted in improvement (= the self-fulfilling prophecy)

Labelling Theory Applied to the Media

Key Terms: Moral Panics, Folk Devils and The Deviancy Amplification Spiral

Labelling theory has been applied to the representation of certain groups in the mainstream media – Interactionists argue that the media has a long history of exaggerating the deviance of youth subcultures in particular, making them seem more deviant than they actually are, which creates a ‘moral panic’ among the general public, which in turn leads to the authorities clamping down on the activities of those subcultures, and finally to the individuals within those subcultures responding with more deviance.

A moral panic is “an exaggerated outburst of public concern over the morality or behaviour of a group in society.” Deviant subcultures have often been the focus of moral panics. According to Interactionists, the Mass Media has a crucial role to play in creating moral panics through exaggerating the extent to which certain groups and turning them into ‘Folk Devils’ – people who are threatening to public order.

In order for a moral panic to break out, the public need to believe what they see in the media, and respond disproportionately, which could be expressed in heightened levels of concern in opinion polls or pressure groups springing up that campaign for action against the deviants. The fact that the public are concerned about ‘youth crime’ suggest they are more than willing to subscribe to the media view that young people are a threat to social order.

The final part of a moral panic is when the authorities respond to the public’s fear, which will normally involve tougher laws, initiatives and sentencing designed to prevent and punish the deviant group question.

The term ‘moral panic’ was first used in Britain by Stan Cohen in a classic study of two youth subcultures of the 1960s – ‘Mods’ and ‘Rockers’. Cohen showed how the media, for lack of other stories exaggerated the violence which sometimes took place between them. The effect of the media coverage was to make the young people categorise themselves as either mods or rockers which actually helped to create the violence that took place between them,which further helped to confirm them as violent in the eyes of the general public.

4 – Labelling and Criminal Justice Policy

Labelling theory believes that deviance is made worse by labelling and punishment by the authorities, and it follows that in order to reduce deviance we should make fewer rules for people to break, and have less-serious punishments for those that do break the rules.An example of an Interactionist inspired policy would be the decriminalisation of drugs.

According to Interactionist theory, decriminalisation should reduce the number of people with criminal convictions and hence the risk of secondary deviance, an argument which might make particular sense for many drugs offences because these are often linked to addiction, which may be more effectively treated medically rather than criminally. (The logic here is that drug-related crime isn’t intentionally nasty, drug-addicts do it because they are addicted, hence better to treat the addiction rather than further stigmatise the addict with a criminal label).

Similarly, labelling theory implies that we should avoid ‘naming and shaming’ offenders since this is likely to create a perception of them as evil outsiders and, by excluding them from mainstream society, push them into further deviance.

Reintegrative Shaming

Most interactionist theory focuses on the negative consequences of labelling, but John Braithwaite (1989) identifies a more positive role for the labelling process. He distinguishes between two types of shaming:

  • Disintegrative shaming where not only the crime, but also the criminal, is labelled as bad and the offender is excluded from society.

  • Reintegrative shaming by contrast labels the act, but not the actor – as if to say ‘he has done a bad thing’ – rather an ‘he is a bad person’.

A policy of reintegrative shaming avoids stigmatising the offender as evil while at the same time making them aware of the negative impact of their actions on others. Victims are encouraged to forgive the person, but not the act, and the offender is welcomed back into the community, thus avoiding the negative consequences associated with secondary deviance.

Braithwaite argues that crime rates are lower where policies of reintegrative shaming are employed.

Evaluation of Labelling Theory

Labelling theory emphasises the following

– That the law is not ‘set in stone’ – it is actively constructed and changes over time

– That law enforcement is often discriminatory

– That we cannot trust crime statistics

– That attempts to control crime can backfire and may make the situation worse

– That agents of social control may actually be one of the major causes of crime, so we should think twice about giving them more power.

Criticisms of Labelling Theory

– It tends to be determinstic, not everyone accepts their labels

– It assumes offenders are just passive – it doesn’t recognise the role of personal choice in committing crime

– It gives the offender a ‘victim status’ – Realists argue that this perspective actually ignores the actual victims of crime.

– It tends to emphasise the negative sides of labelling rather than the positive side

– It fails to explain why acts of primary deviance exist, focussing mainly on secondary deviance.

– Structural sociologists argue that there are deeper, structural explanations of crime, it isn’t all just a product of labelling and interactions.

Revision Bundle for Sale

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my Crime and Deviance Revision Bundle

It contains

  • 12 exam practice questions including short answer, 10 mark and essay question exemplars.
  • 32 pages of revision notes covering the entire A-level sociology crime and deviance specification
  • Seven colour mind maps covering sociological perspective on crime and deviance

Written specifically for the AQA sociology A-level specification.

Related Posts

My main page of links to crime and deviance posts.

The labelling theory of crime was initially a reaction against consensus theories of crime, such as subcultural theory 

Labelling theory is one of the major in-school processes which explains differential educational achievement – see here for in-school processes in relation to class differences in education.

Labelling Theory is related to Interpretivism in that it focuses on the small-scale aspects of social life.