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TitleLabeling Theory of Edwin Lemert
TagsPsychology & Cognitive Science Behavioural Sciences Deviance (Sociology) Academic Discipline Interactions Sociological Theories
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Labeling theory of Edwin Lemert

Labeling theory posits that people come to identify and behave in ways that reflect how
others label them. It is most commonly associated with the sociology of crime and deviance,
where it is used to point out how social processes of labeling and treating someone as criminally
deviant actually fosters deviant behavior and has negative repercussions for that person because
others are likely to be biased against them because of the label (Crossman, 2016). In 1951, this
theory was formalized by Edwin Lemert and introduced the concept of Primary and Secondary
Deviance as a part of his work entitled “Social Pathology.” Primary deviance is engaging in the
initial act of deviant. Also, individual being labeled would first reject the label, and would try
ways and measures of conduct against the label (Abletis, 2009). Secondary deviance refers to a
deviant behavior which flows from a stigmatized sense of self; the deviance is thought to be
consistent with the character of the self. It is a stage in which in which one internalizes a deviant
identity by integrating it into their self-concept. This type of deviance involves a gradual change
in the behavior of an individual once labeling occurs, which resulted to the adaptation of the
roles suggested by the labels (Abletis, 2009).

Although the theory of Edwin Lemert focuses on deviancy, it can help in this research to
explain how labels could affect the behavior of someone being labeled. According to Link and
Phelan (2001, as cited in Ercole, 2009), this can be applied in a school setting, particularly in
regards to explaining how students identify themselves as “good” or “bad.” This comparison is
particularly evident in Rosenthal’s experiment, where primary deviance would be the individuals
who scored poorly on the exam, and secondary deviance would be the way the teacher now
treated these children as a result of their low scores. Thus, just like an individual who is labeled a
criminal is forever seen as an outcast in the eyes of others, reducing them from a whole person to
that of a tainted, discounted one, so too is the poor student. In addition, academic researcher Ray
C. Ristsaid (n.d., as cited in Palmer, 2015) “within the framework of labeling theory...a major
emphasis has been placed upon the role of [academic] institutions in sorting, labeling, tracking,
and channeling persons along various routes depending upon the assessment the institution has
made of the individual.”

As a result of homogeneous blocking of the Internal Auditing students-batch 2017,
labeling among these students could undeniably occur, primarily due to sectioning the students
according to their academic performance. The section of high-performing students would be
labeled as the “star section,” while the section of low-performing students would be called as
“lower section.” Aside from that, high-ability students might be called as “grade-conscious (gc)”
students or “nerds” because of exerting too much effort and time in their studies, while some
may be labeled as “chill” students because of their poor performance and lack of effort. Based
from the labeling theory, there is a tendency that these labels could either positively or negatively
affect students and teachers’ perceptions, motivation and academic performance, depending on

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