Labeling Theory

Jón Gunnar Bernburg*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

34 Citations (Scopus)


Labeling theory provides a distinctively sociological approach that focuses on the role of social labeling in the development of crime and deviance. The theory assumes that although deviant behavior can initially stem from various causes and conditions, once individuals have been labeled or defined as deviants, they often face new problems that stem from the reactions of self and others to negative stereotypes (stigma) that are attached to the deviant label (Becker, 1963; Lemert, 1967). These problems in turn can increase the likelihood of deviant and criminal behavior becoming stable and chronic. In the words of Lemert (1967), deviant behavior can become “means of defense, attack, or adaptation” (p. 17) to the problems created by deviant labeling. Thus, being labeled or defined by others as a criminal offender may trigger processes that tend to reinforce or stabilize involvement in crime and deviance, net of the behavioral pattern and the social and psychological conditions that existed prior to labeling.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbooks of Sociology and Social Research
PublisherSpringer Science and Business Media B.V.
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - 2009

Publication series

NameHandbooks of Sociology and Social Research
ISSN (Print)1389-6903
ISSN (Electronic)2542-839X

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2009, Springer Science+Business Media, LLC.

Other keywords

  • Criminal Offender
  • Deviant Behavior
  • Formal Label
  • Label Effect
  • Label Theory


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