Labeling Theory

  • Jón Gunnar Bernburg
Part of the Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research book series (HSSR)

Labeling theory provides a distinctively sociological approach that focuses on the role of social labeling in the development of crime and deviance. The theory assumes that although deviant behavior can initially stem from various causes and conditions, once individuals have been labeled or defined as deviants, they often face new problems that stem from the reactions of self and others to negative stereotypes (stigma) that are attached to the deviant label (Becker, 1963; Lemert, 1967). These problems in turn can increase the likelihood of deviant and criminal behavior becoming stable and chronic. In the words of Lemert (1967), deviant behavior can become “means of defense, attack, or adaptation” (p. 17) to the problems created by deviant labeling. Thus, being labeled or defined by others as a criminal offender may trigger processes that tend to reinforce or stabilize involvement in crime and deviance, net of the behavioral pattern and the social and psychological conditions that existed prior to labeling.


Deviant Behavior Criminal Offender Label Effect Formal Label Label Theory 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jón Gunnar Bernburg
    • 1
  1. 1.University of IcelandReykjavikIceland

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