The Symbolic-Interactionalist Perspective on Deviance

Differential Association Theory

Differential association is when individuals base their behaviors by association and interaction with others.

Learning Objectives

List Sutherland’s nine key points

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • In criminology, differential association is a theory developed by Edwin Sutherland.
  • Differential association theory proposes that through interaction with others, individuals learn the values, attitudes, techniques, and motives for criminal behavior.
  • Differential association predicts that an individual will choose the criminal path when the balance of definitions for law-breaking exceeds those for law-abiding.
  • One critique leveled against differential association stems from the idea that people can be independent, rational actors and individually motivated.

Key Terms

  • Edwin Sutherland: Considered as one of the most influential criminologists of the 20th century. He was a sociologist of the symbolic interactionist school of thought and is best known for defining white-collar crime and differential association—a general theory of crime and delinquency.
  • Differential Association Theory: This theory predicts that an individual will choose the criminal path when the balance of definitions for law-breaking exceeds those for law-abiding.
  • differential association: a theory in criminology developed by Edwin Sutherland, proposing that through interaction with others, individuals learn the values, attitudes, techniques, and motives for criminal behavior

In criminology, differential association is a theory developed by Edwin Sutherland (1883–1950) proposing that through interaction with others, individuals learn the values, attitudes, techniques, and motives for criminal behavior. Differential association theory is the most talked-about of the learning theories of deviance. This theory focuses on how individuals learn to become criminals, but it does not concern itself with why they become criminals.

Differential association predicts that an individual will choose the criminal path when the balance of definitions for law-breaking exceeds those for law-abiding. This tendency will be reinforced if social association provides active people in the person’s life. The earlier in life an individual comes under the influence high status people within a group, the more likely the individual is to follow in their footsteps. This does not deny that there may be practical motives for crime. If a person is hungry but has no money, there is a temptation to steal. But the use of “needs” and “values” is equivocal. To some extent, both non-criminal and criminal individuals are motivated by the need for money and social gain.

Sutherland’s Nine Points

The principles of Sutherland’s theory of differential association can be summarized into nine key points.

  1. Criminal behavior is learned.
  2. Criminal behavior is learned in interaction with other persons in a process of communication.
  3. The principal part of the learning of criminal behavior occurs within intimate personal groups.
  4. When criminal behavior is learned, the learning includes techniques of committing the crime (which are sometimes very complicated, sometimes simple) and the specific direction of motives, drives, rationalizations, and attitudes.
  5. The specific direction of motives and drives is learned from definitions of the legal codes as favorable or unfavorable.
  6. A person becomes delinquent because of an excess of definitions favorable to violation of law over definitions unfavorable to violation of the law.
  7. Differential associations may vary in frequency, duration, priority, and intensity.
  8. The process of learning criminal behavior by association with criminal and anti-criminal patterns involves all of the mechanisms that are involved in any other learning.
  9. While criminal behavior is an expression of general needs and values, it is not explained by those needs and values, since non-criminal behavior is an expression of the same needs and values.

An important quality of differential association theory is the frequency and intensity of interaction. The amount of time that a person is exposed to a particular definition and at what point the interaction began are both crucial for explaining criminal activity. The process of learning criminal behavior is really not any different from the process involved in learning any other type of behavior. Sutherland maintains that there is no unique learning process associated with acquiring non-normative ways of behaving.

One very unique aspect of this theory is that it works to explain more than just juvenile delinquency and crime committed by lower class individuals. Since crime is understood to be learned behavior, the theory is also applicable to white-collar, corporate, and organized crime.

One critique leveled against differential association stems from the idea that people can be independent, rational actors and individually motivated. This notion of one being a criminal based on his or her environment is problematic—the theory does not take into account personality traits that might affect a person’s susceptibility to these environmental influences.

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Criminal Silhouette: Differential association theory predicts that an individual will choose the criminal path when the balance of definitions for law-breaking exceeds those for law-abiding.

Control Theory

Control theory explains that societal institutions without strong control of society can result in deviant behavior.

Learning Objectives

Identify the central assumption of control theory

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Control theory advances the proposition that weak bonds between the individual and society allow people to deviate. Establishing strong social bonds, such as family ties or close community groups, will prevent crime.
  • According to Travis Hirschi, people will conform to a group when they believe they have more to gain from conformity than by deviance.
  • Decentralized control or market control is typically maintained through factors such as price, competition, or market share.
  • Centralized control such as bureaucratic control is typically maintained through administrative or hierarchical techniques such as creating standards or policies.
  • Mixed control is typically maintained by keeping a set of values and beliefs or norms and traditions.
  • Mixed control is typically maintained by keeping a set of values and beliefs or norms and traditions.

Key Terms

  • control theory: The theory states that behavior is caused not by outside stimuli, but by what a person wants most at any given time. According to control theory, weak social systems result in deviant behavior.
  • deviance: Actions or behaviors that violate formal and informal cultural norms, such as laws or the norm that discourages public nose-picking.

Control theory advances the proposition that weak bonds between the individual and society allow people to deviate. In other words, deviant behavior occurs when external controls on behavior are weak. If the individual has strong social bonds with positive influences, deviant behavior is less likely than for another individual who has no family or friends.

Social Bonds

According to Travis Hirschi, norms emerge to deter deviant behavior, leading to conformity and groups. People will conform to a group when they believe they have more to gain from conformity than by deviance. Hirschi argued a person follows norms because they have a bond with society. These social bonds have four elements: opportunity, attachment, belief, and involvement. When any one of these bonds are weakened or broken a person is more likely to act in defiance.

Control Theory in sociology can either be classified as centralized, decentralized, or mixed. Decentralized control, or market control, is typically maintained through factors such as price, competition, or market share. Centralized control, such as bureaucratic control, is typically maintained through administrative or hierarchical techniques that create standards or policies. An example of mixed control is clan control, which contains both centralized and decentralized control. Mixed control is typically maintained by establishing a set of values and beliefs or norms and traditions.

Critique

While control theory gives an adequate explanation of non-serious forms of youthful delinquency, it fails to explain adult criminal behavior and serious instances of youth crime. Moreover, control theory is met with some resistance for its compliance to a conservative view of the broader social order. From a control theory perspective, children who are properly bonded to their parents would be involved in less crime than children who have weaker parental bonds; control theory assumes that the family is a naturally law-abiding institution. The theory’s biggest weakness is that it places too much importance on the bonds relative to an individual and society, without looking at other concepts like autonomy and impulsiveness.

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Control Strategy: Control theory advances the proposition that weak bonds between the individual and society allow people to deviate.

Labeling Theory

Labeling theory holds that deviance is not inherent to an act, but instead the result of the externally-imposed label of “deviant”.

Learning Objectives

Describe the labeling theory approach to deviance

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • George Herbert Mead posited that the self is socially constructed and reconstructed through the interactions which each person has with the community. Thus, if the community labels an individual as “deviant”, the individual will integrate this label into his sense of self.
  • A social role is a set of expectations we have about a behavior. They are necessary for the organization and functioning of any society or group.
  • Deviant roles are very special roles that society provides for deviant behavior.
  • Mental illness and homosexuality are two examples of labels given to individual displaying deviant behavior.
  • People who believe in hard labeling believe that mental illness does not exist. According to them, these illnesses are entirely socially constructed when we attach the label “mentally ill” to a behavior.
  • Soft labeling supporters believe that mental illnesses are not socially constructed.
  • People who believe in hard labeling believe that mental illness does not exist – they are entirely socially constructed.
  • Soft labeling supporters believe that mental illnesses are not socially constructed.

Key Terms

  • Labeling theory: Labeling theory is closely related to social-construction and symbolic-interaction analysis.
  • Deviant roles: Labeling theory concerns itself mostly not with the normal roles that define our lives, but with those very special roles that society provides for deviant behavior.
  • social role: Labeling theory concerns itself mostly not with the normal roles that define our lives, but with those very special roles that society provides for deviant behavior, called deviant roles, stigmatic roles, or social stigma.

Labeling Theory

Labeling theory is closely related to social-construction and symbolic-interaction analysis. It holds that deviance is not an inherent tendency of an individual, but instead focuses on the tendency of majorities to negatively label minorities or those seen as deviant from standard cultural norms. The theory is concerned with how the self-identity and the behavior of individuals may be determined or influenced by the terms used to describe or classify them. The theory was prominent during the 1960s and 1970s, and some modified versions of the theory are still popular today.

Sociology – Labelling theory: Short presentation on labeling theory.

Theoretical Origins

Labeling theory had its origins in Suicide, a book by French sociologist Émile Durkheim. He argued that crime is not so much a violation of a penal code as it is an act that outrages society. He was the first to suggest that deviant labeling satisfies that function and satisfies society’s need to control the behavior. George Herbert Mead posited that the self is socially constructed and reconstructed through the interactions which each person has with the community. The labeling theory suggests that people are given labels based on how others view their tendencies or behaviors. Each individual is aware of how they are judged by others because he or she has adopted many different roles and functions in social interactions and has been able to gauge the reactions of those present.

Social Roles

Labeling theory concerns itself not with the normal roles that define our lives, but with those very special roles that society provides for deviant behavior, called deviant roles, stigmatic roles, or social stigma. A social role is a set of expectations we have about a behavior. Social roles are necessary for the organization and functioning of any society or group. We expect the postman, for example, to adhere to certain fixed rules about how he does his job.

Labeling theory hypothesizes that the labels applied to individuals influence their behavior, particularly that the application of negative or stigmatizing labels promotes deviant behavior. They become a self-fulfilling prophecy: an individual who is labeled has little choice but to conform to the essential meaning of that judgment. Consequently, labeling theory postulates that it is possible to prevent social deviance via a limited social shaming reaction in “labelers” and replace moral indignation with tolerance.

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Social roles:. A social role is a set of expectations we have about a behavior. Social roles are necessary for the organization and functioning of any society or group.

Labeling Deviants

The social construction of deviant behavior plays an important role in the labeling process that occurs in society. This process involves not only the labeling of criminally deviant behavior, which is behavior that does not fit socially constructed norms, but also labeling that reflects stereotyped or stigmatized behavior of the “mentally ill.” Furthermore, the application of labeling theory to homosexuality has been extremely controversial. It was Alfred Kinsey and his colleagues who pointed out the big discrepancy between the behavior and the role attached to it.

Hard Labeling and Soft Labeling

There are two distinctions in labeling: hard labeling and soft labeling. People who believe in hard labeling believe that mental illness does not exist. It is merely deviance from the norms of society that people attribute to mental illness. Thus, mental illnesses are socially constructed illnesses and psychotic disorders do not exist. People who believe in soft labeling believe that mental illnesses do, in fact, exist. Unlike the supporters of hard labeling, soft labeling supporters believe that mental illnesses are not socially constructed but are objective problems.