Labeling theory is closely related to interactionist and social construction theories. Labeling theory was developed by sociologists during the 1960's. Howard Saul Becker's book entitled Outsiders was extremely influential in the development of this theory and its rise to popularity. Labeling theory holds that deviance is not inherent to an act, but instead focuses on the tendency of majorities to negatively label minorities or those seen as deviant from standard cultural norms. The theory is concerned with how the self-identity and behavior of individuals may be determined or influenced by the terms used to describe or classify them, and is associated with the concept of a self-fulfilling prophecy and stereotyping. The theory was prominent during the 1960s and 1970s, and some modified versions of the theory have developed and are still currently popular. Unwanted descriptors or categorizations - including terms related to deviance, disability or a diagnosis of mental illness - may be rejected on the basis that they are merely "labels", often with attempts to adopt a more constructive language in its place.
Modified Labeling theory
Bruce Link and colleagues have conducted several studies which point to the influence that labeling can have on mental patients. Through these studies, which took place in 1987, 1989, and 1997, Link advanced a "modified labeling theory" indicating that expectations of labeling can have a large negative effect, that these expectations often cause patients to withdraw from society, and that those labeled as having a mental disorder are constantly being rejected from society in seemingly minor ways but that, when taken as a whole, all of these small slights can drastically alter their self concepts. They come to both anticipate and perceive negative societal reactions to them, and this potentially damages their quality of life.
Modified Labeling theory has been described as a "sophisticated social-psychological model of 'why labels matter' ". In 2000 results from a prospective two-year study of patients discharged from a mental hospital (in the context of deinstitutionalization) showed that stigma was a powerful and persistent force in their lives, and that experiences of social rejection were a persistent source of social stress. Efforts to cope with labels, such as not telling anyone, educating people about mental distress/disorder, withdrawing from stigmatizing situations, could result in further social isolation and reinforce negative self-concepts. Sometimes an identity as a low self-esteem minority in society would be accepted. The stigma was associated with diminished motivation and ability to "make it in mainstream society" and with "a state of social and psychological vulnerability to prolonged and recurrent problems". There was an up and down pattern in self-esteem, however, and it was suggested that, rather than simply gradual erosion of self-worth and increasing self-deprecating tendencies, people were sometimes managing, but struggling, to maintain consistent feelings of self-worth. Ultimately, "a cadre of patients had developed an entrenched, negative view of themselves, and their experiences of rejection appear to be a key element in the construction of these self-related feelings" and "hostile neighbourhoods may not only affect their self-concept but may also ultimately impact the patient's mental health status and how successful they are".
Hard labeling – People who believe in hard labeling believe that mental illness does not exist. It is merely deviance from the norms of society that cause people to believe in mental illness. Thus, mental illnesses are socially constructed illnesses and psychotic disorders do not exist.
Soft labeling – People who believe in soft labeling believe that mental illnesses do, in fact, exist. Unlike the supporters of hard labeling, soft labeling supporters believe that mental illnesses are not socially constructed.
One of the most important approaches to the understanding of criminality.