Labeling theory argues that social groups create deviance by agreeing on rules and laws and by applying these laws to individuals. In this perspective, the reaction to criminal behavior is just as crucial to the study of crime as an individual criminal’s behavior. The labeling perspective posits a dynamic process whereby an individual is labeled either a deviant or a criminal, internalizes that behavior by coming to view himself or herself as deviant or criminal, and then continues in behavior that is consistent with the applied label.
Labeling theory acts most effectively as a bridge between consensus theories of criminality (rational choice, social learning, social disorganization, strain, subculture, and control theories) and critical theories that examine the impact of social structures on criminality. This is a function that no other criminological theory can serve, and it illustrates the importance of this theory.
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