Labelingdeviance Theory

labeling theory of deviant behavior, also called societal-reaction theory, postulates an interaction between individuals and their social environment where society both defines and produces deviance. That is, labeling theory focuses on society's reaction to personal behavior as a fundamental aspect of a deviance-producing process. Whereas other models of deviance may place the source of deviance solely within the individual or solely within society, the labeling theory emphasizes the interactive processes between society and the individual (cf., the residual deviance hypothesis - holds that behavioral disorders are due, after all other reasons have been exhausted or excluded, to the individual's intention to break society's rules; and the transgenerational hypothesis - holds that deviant behavior may be explained on the basis of its having been acquired or learned from previous generations). According to labeling theory, deviance is created by other individuals' reactions to a given act or event where those with the ability and power to label are called the "influential audience." Certain behaviors are designated as il-logical, deviant, or mentally ill when they have been codified appropriately and when a group has power to impose standards of codification [for example, consider the marginal and controversial issue/practice of nudism, or the public display of the naked human body, where rational nudism theories (such as rebellion against Victorian modesty and hypocrisy; a man's desire to display his masculinity in reaction to castration anxiety; a woman's desire to display her body to indicate her ability to attract men; or a rejection of religious prud-ishness via a "back-to-nature" philosophy) struggle for expression, often, against inflexible and established standards and social norms]. Thus, both the behavior and the per son exhibiting the behavior become labeled as deviant. In general, the study of deviance has been approached from two different theoretical aspects: deviance is an exceptional and consistent variation from statistical norms of the overall population (cf., communitarianism theory - a social theory which holds that human behavior is determined largely by the culture and norms of the place where people live; this approach is in contrast to theories that explain behavior and deviance in indi-vidualistic/intrapsychic terms that do not take into account the role of the social context in understanding human intentions and deviant behaviors); and deviance is defined by the occurrence of single "critical" events (e.g., violence, high-intensity behavior, emotions, or cognitions). In particular, theoretical positions on deviance include: internal factors and differences among individuals with use of typologies and classification schemes such as insanity, criminality, mental illness, and learning disabilities; social structural differences where social alienation, enmity, and differential access to both legitimate and illegitimate opportunity are critical aspects of deviance; interactionist viewpoint, or differential labeling theory - where deviance arises from an interaction between individuals' performances and society's reaction to those performances; and learning theory - argues that all behaviors, including both normal and deviant, are learned according to the laws of punishment, reinforcement, and modeling. Various critics of deviance theory in general, and formal labeling theory in particular, suggest that the labeling of deviance (such as "criminal" and "mentally ill") is an unjust and irrational process, and argue from research that shows that deviance is not absolute in character but may be attributed to an act, depending on the variance of the act from the experience of the audience, on the observability and location of the act, and on the implied motivation of the act. See also BEHAVIOR THERAPY/COGNITIVE THERAPY, THEO-RIES OF; MEDICAL/DISEASE MODEL; PERSONALITY THEORIES; PSYCHOPATHOLOGY, THEORIES OF; PYGMALION EFFECT; SELF-FULFILLING PROPHESY.

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