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labelling theory


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The hypothesis, which originated in sociology in the 1950s, that the social attribution of deviant identities to individuals or groups is a self-fulfilling prophecy leading to the amplification of deviance. Within this theory, deviance is regarded as a social construction (see alsoconstructionism) rather than as an objective property of behaviour deriving from individual psychology or genetic inheritance. Some distinguish primary deviance—a violation of norms prior to labelling—from secondary deviance. Labelling theory is closely associated with symbolic interactionism.

Subjects: Sociology.


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