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Labeling Theory

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Essay title: Labeling Theory

As a contributor to American Pragmatism and later a member of the Chicago School, George Herbert Mead posited that the self is socially constructed and reconstructed through the interactions which each person has with the community. Each individual is aware of how they are judged by others because he or she has attempted many different roles and functions in social interactions and has been able to gauge the reactions of those present. This builds a subjective conception of the self, but as others intrude into the reality of that individual's life, this represents objective data which may require a re-evaluation of that conception depending on the authoritativeness of the others' judgment. Family and friends may judge differently from random strangers. More socially representative individuals such as police officers or judges may be able to make more globally respected judgments. If deviance is a failure to conform to the rules observed by most of the group, the reaction of the group is to label the person as having offended against their social or moral norms of behavior. This is the power of the group: to designate breaches of their rules as deviant and to treat the person differently depending on the seriousness of the breach. The more differential the treatment, the more the individual's self-image is affected.

Whether a breach of a given rule will be stigmatized

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