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Conflict Theory and Labeling Theory

Social conflict theory maintains that deviance (crime, suicide, etc.) arises when a gap exists between the rewards held out by the status quo as attainable and the denial of access to routes of attaining those rewards for subgroups in society. As Brown, Esbensen, and Geis (2001) explain, "Conflict theorists believe that norms do not reflect a consensus of society to protect the community, but rather are the outcome of competing interests groups with those holding the most power defining the norms" (p. 64). For example, in poverty ridden urban areas where crime rates are high and drug use is common children lack few opportunities for upward mobility in terms of academic or economic opportunities. Many turn to gang membership or the drug trade as a means of getting the resources they view the status quo as denying them access to. While such individuals "reject inequality" that arises from class stratification and resort to crime, the status quo "accepts inequality" as the natural differences in individual merit (Ezell et al., 2005, p. 198). In a sense, those who benefit from the system despite its inequalities are those who control its institutions that reinforce those very inequalities.

Labeling theory takes a different approach to crime than conflict theory. Instead of focusing on the inequalities that arise from a specific amount of resources being available to society, labeling theory focuses on the self-fulfilling prophecy that arises for those who are termed criminals. Once a person is arrested, prosecuted, and punished they are labeled a "criminal." When this occurs, there is a significant likelihood that the individual will subsequently commit more crimes when released into society. This is for three primary reasons: 1) Labeled a criminal the individual will face trouble finding "legitimate" employment; 2) Conventional people may shun an individual labeled a "criminal," forcing the criminal to associate...

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Conflict Theory and Labeling Theory. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 11:21, August 20, 2017, from
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