labeling theory in sociology

The Labeling Theory-What it is & How it Works in Sociology

Labeling theory in sociology

The labeling theory is a concept in sociology that describes how society comes to label people as deviant. The labeling theory suggests that when someone is labeled, they are treated differently from others who have not been labeled. This treatment can be either positive or negative, depending on the circumstances.

These labels may come in many forms, but the most common types are based on race, ethnicity, religion, and gender. How does one know if someone has been labeled? Does it matter what kind of label they receive? What are the consequences of being labeled? Do all people experience these same effects from receiving a specific type of label? In this blog post, we will discuss each point above to explain the labeling theory in sociology and how it works.

Labeling Theory

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The labeling theory in sociology

The labeling theory was developed by sociologist David Matza in the 1960s and is a form of social control. The idea behind labeling is that people are negatively labeled based on their behavior. This then forces them to continue behaving in this way because they fear becoming stigmatized if they do not.

There are three types of labels: self-defining, ascribed, and achieved. Self-defining means you choose what label you want for yourself (i.e., religion). Ascribed usually comes from outside sources like family or friends without permission asked (i.e., race). On the other hand, achieved occurs when someone changes his/her status – often through hard work or luck – but may still be seen as “less” in one way because of their past (i.e., socioeconomic status).


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How do we know if someone has been labeled?

You shall know that a person has been labeled when there is a change in their behavior. For example, a person may act differently around people they know will label them. It’s also possible that someone might feel more anxious in an environment where labels are expected or likely to be applied.

Behavioral changes can happen from labeling due to negative connotations associated with the terms or fear that they will be labeled again if they continue their current behavior.

A person might also react to labeling by complying with the labeling and changing themselves, which further reinforces the idea of being labeled in society. It is often believed that this can cause self-fulfilling prophecies. When someone’s identity depends on how others think about them, it becomes difficult for them to act outside of those expectations because no one knows who they are anymore.

Labeling theory applications in everyday life

The labeling theory has been applied to many different areas within sociology, such as mental health and criminal justice systems. It has become an essential part of research methods due to its usefulness in explaining social models at work through humans.

A person who has been labeled is often treated much differently than those without negative labeling. For example, suppose someone is labeled as a criminal. In that case, they are more likely to be arrested for crimes even when the crime committed was minor due to this particular label and people’s preconceived notions about them.

There can also be tremendous consequences of being labeled, such as not having the same opportunities or advantages that others might have. The society assumes you cannot do something based on your identity, which has been created by other people labeling you in specific ways.

The consequences of being labeled

The consequences of being labeled in the labeling theory can be either positive or negative. Labeling theory deals with how people are categorized and what happens to them when they are labeled. It also looks at all of the possible consequences that could stem from being labeled.

The labeling theory holds two key points: firstly, labels may apply to a person who fulfills any number of different identities; secondly – these labels affect behavior.

In sociology, there are many examples where someone has been labeled and had their lives changed as a result. One example would be children in foster care. As soon as you place those kids in foster care, then they suddenly have this label that defines them for their entire lives just based on one moment, such as if their parents got divorced and the courts decided that they need to live with a different relative

Another example would be when people are labeled based on their appearance. For instance, black individuals who wear traditional African clothing may get judged for looking like gang members or drug dealers, even if they aren’t interested in it because of where they come from. This can lead them to be profiled as suspected criminals.

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More Examples of when people are labeled in society

Another consequence of being labeled is that it can lead to people being easily stereotyped. In the case of black individuals wearing traditional African clothing, they would be assumed to be poor and uneducated.

We also see labeling theory in politics when politicians create new policies for specific groups that want more support based on their labels, like Muslims or women. This example is crucial because it leads to a kind of discrimination in a society where some are treated as having less power while others get more rights just because they have been labeled with particular ideologies.

Another effect of labeling is that people are less likely to see things in complex ways since they believe that their positions on different issues have been decided for them. Labeling people can be a consequence of how they dress, speak and act. The labeling theory in sociology says that the more often someone is called one thing by others, the more it becomes true.

Labeling has become something to watch out for when you’re trying to get into college or an internship. This is because these labels could keep you from going as far as you would have been able to otherwise.

To understand the labeling theory, it is essential to consider how people can end up being labeled due to a lack of other options and because there will always be some groups who feel like they’re not receiving justice. The point is that we need diversity which means recognizing people’s differences.

There exist various examples of labeling where those are labeled with things like “middle class” or” “poor.” When someone is labeled, for example, by being called a “middle class,” they are given certain privileges and treated differently.

Labels can be seen as in the case of when people label themselves or others with things like race, age, gender identity, etc. Labeling is not only something that occurs within society but also between various social groups such as gangs, schools, organizations, and neighborhoods.

Another effect of labeling is portrayed in a case study done by sociologist Erving Goffman, where a woman who is labeled as “crazy” had her life turned inside out and upside down. The labeling theory has been applied to help better understand the way that people are treated in society for everything from being gay or transgender to their age, race, ability status, and more.


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When should you label someone?

  • You should label someone when they can’t or won’t identify themselves.
  • You should also label people who are not aware of their behavior and need help identifying it, like children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in school.
  • Labeling is a common component in mental health treatment through the process of diagnosis by psychologists or psychiatrists, particularly disorders such as depression. Professionals may have to first eliminate other possible causes before concluding that there’s an issue with labeling them correctly.
  • Labeling also occurs when someone displays an unusual behavior that doesn’t fit the norms of society and needs to be identified so they can get help.
  • Labeling is a common occurrence in everyday life, whether it’s labeling your coat rack by organizing things with labels (labels as name tags) or labeling ourselves and others to understand social differences or similarities between people.

Why is a better understanding of the labeling theory critical to sociology as a whole?

  1. Labels can significantly impact the way people see themselves and how they relate to others.
  2. It is crucial to understand labeling theory because it can help sociologists better analyze and study how society treats people.
  3. People are not just labeling each other; we’re also labeling ourselves based on what society tells us it means to be masculine or feminine, black or white, gay or straight.
  4. Understanding more about labeling helps sociologists better understand human behavior and social processes and provide insights for improving individuals” lives while at the same time addressing issues in their communities that affect them all.
  5. The labeling theory is a significant part of the sociological perspective.
  6. Labels can make people feel inferior, abnormal, or different from others which may lead to these individuals feeling shame and embarrassment.
  7. Labeling has been used as an explanation for why children act out when it might be due to other causes such as abuse, mental illness, or even a lack of positive reinforcement at home.

Why do people follow labels?

Believing labels is a form of self-preservation that helps people to feel safe, comfortable, and accepted. People are eager to find out what the labeling says about them. They believe that they will know who they are

Labeling teaches us how society reacts towards certain behaviors, so we can learn from them just as others may have learned from our behavior before

Listening too closely to labels could lead you down a path of conformity where someone might change their personality. In an effort for others not to use those labels on them again or even try to get rid of any habits that make him/her different. This is dangerous because if someone does this, then s/he will never be able -to express themselves when necessary fully.

Due to our natural human inclination for wanting things that are different or new. For example, people would instead drink pumpkin spice lattes than black coffee year-round because it’s different from what they’re used to drinking.

This can also lead some individuals who feel like outsiders due to labeling into feeling special” when exploring other worlds such as the Goth subculture. It emphasizes everything dark, gothic, and macabre with an air of elegance but without fear. The individual may not have found acceptance elsewhere, so he/she embraces this label wholeheartedly while gaining greater confidence through the exploration of their identities.

Who was Everett Hughes, and what did he have to do with the labeling theory in sociology?

Everett Hughes was a sociologist who proposed the theory of labeling. He believed that labels could make people feel inferior, abnormal, or different from others which may lead to these individuals feeling shame and embarrassment.

Everett Hughes’ paper “Social Problems as Situated Behavior,” is considered one of his best articles. It proposes an answer for how society causes problems such as crime and poverty.

In this article, he said that when someone commits a criminal act, there are four possible sources: criminal motivation (the most common), social pressures, lack of discretion in use by law enforcement officials, and situational constraints on behavior. In other words, our environment plays the most significant role in what type of person we become, whether good or bad. We look at each of the four sources below.

Criminal motivation

In labeling theory, society defines deviance and people who are labeled as criminals.

The labeling theory is a social construction that says how individuals’ behavior influences the labeling process for themselves or others. An example of this would be when someone does something illegal, but there was no harm done to anyone else. They may not get arrested or charged with anything because what they did wasn’t considered criminal in their situation.

Social pressures

Social pressures are one of the most important elements of labeling theory.

Social pressures can be good and bad depending on where they are coming from. For example, peer pressure is usually a negative social pressure, but parental pressure could positively affect an individual’s behavior.

Labeling theory also says that you don’t need to do something directly wrong to be labeled as someone who does illegal things or makes poor decisions which may not always be accurate. People make mistakes sometimes without realizing it. Hence, we all engage in some form of deviance at one point or another, even though it might not seem like a big deal. Still, society views these actions differently than others which means this person will now get labeled with being a criminal when they aren’t.

Lack of discretion in use by law enforcement officials

Lack of discretion is when law enforcement officials use labeling theory to impose labels on others without knowing whether or not any crimes were committed, which can cause disadvantages for those who are mislabeled.

For example, someone might be guilty but may not be arrested because another person was mislabeled by the law enforcer’s lack of discretion. This could lead an innocent person into a lot more time spent trying to prove themselves as being non-criminal, which would ultimately harm society overall since this individual will then lose out.

Law enforcers usually have a lot of discretion when they’re doing their jobs, which can lead to labeling people as criminals even if they haven’t committed any crimes.

Since the law enforcement officials are in control, it is easy for them to misuse their power by imposing unnecessary labels on others based on things that may not be true about them. Law enforcement officials should only label people as criminals if they have done something illegal.

Labeling the wrong people places these individuals at a disadvantage and gives them more work to do to try and prove their innocence.

Situational constraints on behavior

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Behavior and situational constraints

A situation may limit a person’s behavior, but this does not mean they are confined to that one place or environment.

Most people have some degree of freedom in the way they behave and carry themselves; however, no matter what behaviors they choose to display, there will always be situational constraints on their actions.

People cannot go against these limits even if it means doing something wrong because the consequences for breaking them can be harsh depending on how much power those who set these boundaries hold over others.

How can you use this information to grow your business or personal life

  • Knowing the labeling theory and how it works will help you make better decisions in your life.
  • You can use this knowledge to understand why people react differently to certain situations, which may allow you more insight into their thoughts or feelings when needing input on a decision that could affect them as well.
  • It is important for all sociologists to be aware of these consequences, so they know what questions need asking about society, culture, institutions, etc. during research interviews or surveys – not just those directly related to labeling theory (which we are going over mainly because labeling impacts many other aspects). Next, we look at other aspects of the labeling theory.

Deviant behavior

Deviant behaviour is behavior that is considered unacceptable by the majority of society. Deviant behavior includes such things as murder and adultery.

Labeling theory in sociology examines how people are labeled deviant through their interactions with others to understand why they engage in certain behaviors’. Labels can be self-created or imposed in a variety of ways including, name-calling and blaming.

Labeling theory is important in labeling deviant behavior because it allows for a better understanding of why people do what they do.

Social groups are those individuals who control society by setting up its rules (norms), values and expectations with regards to acceptable behaviors’, which leads us back to our original question; who defines them? It seems like there are two types of labels within this context – primary deviance and secondary deviance.

Primary Deviance

Primary deviance is when an individual performs a deviant act for the first time.

Primary deviance is not necessarily negative because it can lead to more favorable outcomes such as what Howard Becker called “primary socialization” or being punished and then returning to society with new norms on how one should behave to maintain their normality of people.

Criminals are often labeled according to primary deviance, which implies that they will always be criminals, but this may not necessarily be true unless secondary labels come into play.

Secondary Deviance

Secondary deviance is when a person has been labeled with primary deviance and then commits another act that violates norms.

Secondary deviance can lead to harsher punishments because they show the individual does not want to change their behavior despite being punished once before. Still, it can also be seen as an opportunity for rehabilitation if treatment is made available.

Labeling theory uses the idea of secondary deviation and how it interacts with Labeling within society, which would have implications on other social theories such as functionalism or Marxism.

Some interesting facts about Labeling Theory

“- Make it as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

  • Labeling theory is a sociological perspective developed in 1967.
  • It focuses on how humans react to others who are labeled as “different” from themselves.
  • Labeled people might be more vulnerable to discrimination, prejudice, and other negative outcomes.
  • The labeling process involves three steps: First, someone does something that leads them to be seen as different by society; second – they experience the consequences of this difference (which can trigger either positive or negative reactions); third – they decide whether it’s worth being seen as different for what made them stand out originally.
  • The decision hinges on weighing these two sets of consequences against each other based on their values and goals.

Labeling theory is a sociological perspective that analyzes the effects of social labeling on people. Mark Granovetter developed this theory, which states that when someone labels another person or group with a negative label like “criminal,” an outcast, victim, etc., it can have devastating consequences for the individual’s self-esteem and mental health.

This means that your sociology assignment could be more important than you think. If we don’t pay attention to how our society defines certain groups of people negatively, they may never recover from their stigmatization. Contact us today to get started with your sociology assignment so that you can learn all about labeling and its impact on individuals” lives.

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