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Symbolic interactionists highlight that human behavior is determined by
definitions that are created and maintained through symbolic interactions with
others. Therefore, this suggests that an individual’s sense of self and
identity is shaped through social interaction. Symbolic interactionism is also
used to help sociologists understand and examine the relationships among
individuals within a society. Other than assessing how people’s definition of
the situation determine their deviance or conformity to social norms, we can
also look at its relationship to deviance and crime. Deviance is defined as the
infraction of norms, rules, or expectations in which people respond negatively
to. In relation to deviance, crime is explained as the violation of rules that
have been written into law. Under symbolic interactionism, the main three micro
level theories of Becker, Sutherland and Hirschi illustrate the effects of
socialization on individuals and their deviant and criminal behavior.

Sutherland’s theory of differential association states that through
associating with others, an individual can learn the attitudes, values,
techniques and motives for criminal or deviant behavior. Individuals who
interact with certain reference groups learn an “excess of definitions” of
deviance, thereby increasing one’s deviance. As we associate with different
groups, we learn norms of society and conformity, affecting the way we view the
world along with our thoughts and reactions. Through various socializing agents
such as parents, family, friends, teachers, neighborhoods, subcultures, and the
media, people learn their norms from others. Moreover, people who learn
positive definitions of criminal behavior through interaction with others will
likely commit crime. If a child is exposed to positive definitions of deviant
and criminal behavior, he or she is more likely to deviate from society’s
norms. Furthermore, peer pressure can be a motivating factor that leads one to
commit crime as socialization facilitate the learning of favorable definitions
to crime that law breaking is acceptable.

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Hirschi, on the other hand, indicates that each individual is propelled
toward deviance but many of us conform to society’s norms due to an efficient
system of inner and outer controls that tie us to the conventional society. However,
if these controls were to prove ineffective, people would begin to deviant. The
inner controls represent the internalized morality of an individual and the
desire to be a “good” person while the outer controls are explained by the
bonds to conventional institutions, groups, people who influence us not to be
deviant such as our family, friends and the police. The closer one’s bonds are
with society, the more effective our inner and outer controls are. Having
strong attachments, commitments, involvements, and convictions that certain
actions are wrong are important in maintaining strong bonds. Inner controls
focus on one’s self control as self-control activity predicts social bonds and
the result of low self-control, often seen in impulsive and sensation-seeking
behavior, is crime. Inner and outer controls are crucial in developing one’s
self-control as it prevents them from deviating from social norms. Therefore,
without socialization where close social bonds are created within the
conventional society, there are lesser forces to prevent one from being deviant
or committing crime.

Becker’s labeling theory highlights that labels influence one’s
self-perception and others’ perception of them, as they are affected by the
labels with which they are given. This propels their behaviour either towards
deviance or conformity. Labels (names, reputations) can either influence
or deter people from deviance and criminal behavior. Social groups make rules
or norms in the society and violation of these rules or norms means deviant and
even criminal behavior. Furthermore, labeling theory explains that deviance is
not determined solely by the act a person commits but rather, an outcome of the
label applied to that act by other people. By labelling individuals as deviants,
they will notice how others perceive them and internalize the “deviant” label
and behave accordingly to their new identity. Therefore, one of the
consequences of labeling is explained by the self-fulfilling prophecy as
individuals who are stigmatized with negative labels may feel inclined or
trapped to conform to the labels assigned to them by others.

            Symbolic interactionism
is intriguing as it explains how socialization influences individuals to choose
deviant and criminal behavior through the three micro-level theories of
Sutherland, Hirschi, and Becker. While Sutherland’s differential association
theory explains that the groups in which we associate ourselves with affect our
deviance, Hirschi’s control theory states that without strong bonds with society
and effective inner and outer controls, we are more likely to deviate from the
established norms. On the other hand, Becker’s labeling theory highlights the
significance of labels and reputations as they determine whether they are
propelled towards deviant behaviors or not.



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