More than often, juvenile delinquents are stigmatize with a negative labeling by the members of their society. The members of their social groups establish a negative label accordingly to the infractions of the delinquent, in which is influenced by a deviant behavior. The concept of labeling juveniles with a negative label is to associate a loss of status from civilization. Indicating that they are unworthy of carrying a title of their citizenship. The labeling theory is one of the fundamentals of the social learning theory in which deviant behavior is caused by social and/or environmental pressures, and a “negative label” in society condemns the behavior. Howard S. Becker, an American sociologist that concluded in his study that deviance is socially constructed, explains the factors of deviance in a sociological perspective. Several proposals have been made as to why juveniles proclaim a deviant identity, the social learning theory in its standard definition propose that society is responsible for the deviant act. The Labeling Theory is one of the various criminological and sociological perspective in which deviant behavior becomes the factor of the crime and then analyzed by its core principles.
Howard S. Becker’s proposition of labeling theory emerges specifically from the relativistic perspective as he defines the act of deviance. He argues that, “...the essence of deviance is not contained within individuals’ behaviors but in the response others have to these”; “Deviance, he claims, is a social construction forged by diverse audiences” (Becker, 1991). It is an unaware reaction that social groups form in order to identify deviance but unknowingly, deviance is created by society. Juveniles have the tendency to be influenced voluntarily by their environment, as they engage in a process of learning and growth, they soon comply with a specific group in society, whether it supports a deviant group or not. More so, Becker is identifying the response of people rather than the act itself (Becker, 1991).
Numerous definitions from society can conclude a deviant act. The variations in the degree of deviance arises due to the temporal or historical context framing the acts, which gives an overall perspective to the social position and power of those who are affected by the behavior itself and its consequences (Becker, 1991). Labeling a juvenile is the consequence of their actions, as mentioned before; it is the core assessment that is used to reinforce the loss of status in society. Asserting the idea that society has opened the doors to commit such deviant acts. Rules that have been brought upon civilization to control social order and protect each individual citizen from internal factors that constitutes harm. Becker also claims, “…social groups create deviance by making the rules whose infraction constitutes deviance…”(Becker, 1991).
Rules and regulations that are imposed in society become “…the product of someone’s initiative…people who exhibit such enterprise as moral entrepreneurs.” (Becker, 1991). A perspective that analyzes the labeling theory by two related species- rule creators and rule enforcers (Becker, 1991). These perspectives intake as much importance as to why juveniles are labeled wrongdoers in society. Rules and regulations in society must first be upon existence before enforcing any act as deviant. Becker makes this principle a point in his argument by also stating that once a rule has come into existence it must be applied to particular people. “Offenders must be discovered, identified, apprehended and convicted…” (Becker, 1991). This process of discovery occurs after the rule has been imposed and acts as the enterprise of the behavior.
The labeling theory is important in juvenile justice because we must establish a comprehensive understanding as to why juveniles are carrying a negative label in society. In order to do so, identifying the infractions committed by juveniles, it will assist in classifying their deviant behavior. There is no justification for any crime that is committed by a juvenile or an adult but studying their environment and social atmosphere can assist in explaining their behavior. Becker argues about two main points in which the labeling theory is associated with the delinquent; he proclaims that members of society socially construct deviance and that a sort of rule-breaking behavior occurs in order to bear a negative label. Establishing a negative stigma to the delinquent only supports continuous deviant behavior. They quickly adapt to their norms and later it becomes part of their lifestyle instead of an outburst of unusual deviant acts. Juveniles also develop a master status in society, the majority of the time the crime is not identified but the act is considered an unwelcome contribution to society.
Becker , H. S. (1991). Outsiders . (pp. 317-324). Adult Publishing Group
Becker , H. S. (1991). Relativism: Labeling Theory . (pp. 41-45). Adult Publishing