Who propounded the labelling theory of deviance? | Sociology for CUET by Vikash Ranjan | Sociology Guru

Labelling Theory

Question: Who propounded the labelling theory of deviance?

  1. Jock Young
  2. Howard S. Becker
  3. David Matza
  4. Sutherland

Answer: (2)

Labeling Theory of Deviance: Understanding Social Reaction to Deviant Behavior


The Labeling Theory of Deviance, propounded by Howard S. Becker in 1963, revolutionized the field of criminology and sociology. This theory fundamentally challenges traditional perspectives on deviance by shifting the focus from the inherent nature of deviant acts to the societal reaction and labeling processes that contribute to the construction of deviance. This exposition explores the key tenets of the Labeling Theory, its theoretical underpinnings, and its enduring impact on our comprehension of deviant behavior.

Howard S. Becker and the Labeling Theory:

  1. Deviance as a Social Construct:
  • Becker’s Labeling Theory asserts that deviance is not an inherent quality of an act but a social construct resulting from the reactions of others to particular behaviors. The act itself is not inherently deviant; it becomes so when labeled and stigmatized by societal actors.
  1. Process of Labeling:
  • Becker emphasizes the importance of the process of labeling, where certain individuals or groups are singled out and branded as deviant. This labeling can emanate from formal institutions, such as the criminal justice system, or informal interactions within society.

Key Tenets of Labeling Theory:

  1. Primary and Secondary Deviance:
  • Becker distinguishes between primary and secondary deviance. Primary deviance refers to the initial act of rule-breaking, which may go unnoticed or be dismissed. Secondary deviance occurs when an individual internalizes the deviant label and incorporates it into their self-concept, leading to sustained deviant behavior.
  1. Deviant Career:
  • The concept of the deviant career describes the trajectory of individuals labeled as deviant. Once labeled, individuals may face societal reactions, pushing them further into a deviant lifestyle and reinforcing the deviant identity.
  1. Master Status:
  • Becker introduces the idea of master status, wherein an individual’s deviant label becomes the dominant and overriding characteristic by which they are perceived. This master status can influence interactions and opportunities, shaping the individual’s social identity.

Social Reaction and Stigmatization:

  1. Stigmatization and Exclusion:
  • Labeling theory underscores the consequences of stigmatization. The deviant label attaches a negative stereotype to an individual, leading to exclusion, discrimination, and limitations in social opportunities.
  1. Societal Reaction and Amplification:
  • Becker argues that societal reaction to deviance can amplify and perpetuate deviant behavior. The labeling process may push individuals into deviant subcultures where they find acceptance and reinforcement of their labeled identity.

Criticisms and Evolving Perspectives:

  1. Determinism and Structural Factors:
  • Critics contend that labeling theory tends to be deterministic, emphasizing the role of societal reaction while downplaying structural factors that contribute to deviance, such as poverty, inequality, and systemic injustices.
  1. Individual Agency and Choice:
  • Some argue that labeling theory may overlook individual agency and the capacity for individuals to resist or reinterpret deviant labels. The theory has been criticized for not sufficiently addressing the role of personal choice and autonomy.

Contemporary Relevance and Practical Implications:

  1. Criminal Justice Policies:
  • Labeling theory has influenced debates on criminal justice policies, emphasizing the need for rehabilitative rather than punitive approaches. Critics argue that harsh punishments can exacerbate the deviant identity and perpetuate the cycle of criminality.
  1. Restorative Justice Practices:
  • Restorative justice practices align with labeling theory by focusing on repairing harm and reintegrating individuals into society rather than perpetuating stigmatization through punitive measures.


The Labeling Theory of Deviance introduced by Howard S. Becker has significantly enriched our understanding of deviant behavior by highlighting the pivotal role of societal reactions and labeling processes. By conceptualizing deviance as a social construct, the theory has prompted a paradigm shift in criminological perspectives. However, ongoing debates and critiques underscore the need for a nuanced approach that considers both societal reactions and structural factors influencing deviant behavior. As society grapples with issues of stigmatization and criminal justice reform, the insights provided by labeling theory remain pertinent, shaping discussions on how best to address and mitigate deviance in our communities.


Take a Quick Sociology Quiz to measure your Performance


Frequently Asked Questions:

1. Question: Define the term “ethnic movement” and provide an example from India.

Answer: An ethnic movement refers to a collective effort by a group sharing common cultural, linguistic, or religious traits, seeking to assert their identity and rights; an example from India is the Khalistan Movement in Punjab.

2. Question: Identify the main objectives behind the Gorkhaland ethnic movement.

Answer: The Gorkhaland ethnic movement primarily seeks to establish a separate state for India’s Nepali-speaking population in the Darjeeling region, advocating for linguistic and cultural recognition and political autonomy.

3. Question: What was the Operation Blue Star, and which ethnic movement was it related to?
Answer: Operation Blue Star was a military action in 1984, aiming to remove Sikh militants hiding in the Golden Temple in Amritsar; it is related to the Khalistan movement, which sought a separate Sikh country.

4. Question: Mention a critical factor that triggered the emergence of ethnic movements in India, as discussed by Dipankar Gupta.
Answer: Dipankar Gupta emphasized that ethnicity is fundamentally a political process, wherein caste and religion, the key components of identity formation, are politicized by leaders for vested interests.

5. Question: What were the primary reasons for the Assam Ethnicity conflicts involving Bodo tribals and Bengali Muslim settlers?
Answer: The Assam Ethnicity conflicts primarily stemmed from issues related to immigration, land rights, and resource allocation, leading to clashes, riots, and evolving relationships among indigenous communities to address challenges.

6. Question: Briefly describe the role of the Dravidian Movement in terms of caste and societal structure.
Answer: The Dravidian Movement, led notably by E.V. Ramasamy, aimed to establish an egalitarian society, focusing on anti-Brahmanism and advocating for equal rights for backward castes, while also introducing reforms like self-respect marriages.

7. Question: Name the prominent ethnic movements in North-East India and specify one common objective.
Answer: Prominent ethnic movements in North-East India include the Nagas’ and Mizos’ struggles; a common objective was to gain autonomy and recognition for their distinct tribal identities and cultural uniqueness.

8. Question: What is the key argument of Gail Omveldt regarding traditional Indian society and multiculturalism?
Answer: Gail Omveldt opposed romanticizing traditional Indian society, arguing that hierarchy has always dominated it and dismissing the notion that multiculturalism is an intrinsic feature of Indian society as a myth.

9. Question: Briefly explain the social hierarchy factor as a contributing element to ethnic movements as suggested by Olzak.
Answer: Olzak suggests that the construction of hierarchies among ethnic communities, which often leads to the suppression of one group by another, is a key factor that can instigate social and ethnic movements.

10. Question: Identify one consequence of the unequal economic development factor within the context of ethnic movements in India.
Answer: One consequence of unequal economic development is the marginalization and underdevelopment of certain groups, leading to feelings of alienation and sometimes initiating ethnic movements as these groups strive for equality and recognition.

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