Social Reaction Theory: Understanding the Concept

Social Reaction Theory, also known as Labeling Theory, is a criminological theory that explains how individuals and groups are labeled as deviants by society. According to this theory, people become criminals not because of their actions but because they are labeled as such by society. This labeling can lead to stigmatization and exclusion from mainstream society, which can further drive criminal behavior.

Origins of Social Reaction Theory

The Social Reaction Theory emerged in the 1960s as a response to the limitations of traditional criminological theories that focused on individual factors such as genetics and personality traits. This theory emphasizes the role of social processes in shaping criminal behavior.

Key Concepts

The Social Reaction Theory is based on several key concepts:


Deviance refers to any behavior that violates social norms or expectations. This can range from minor infractions such as jaywalking to more serious crimes like robbery or murder.


Labeling refers to the process of categorizing individuals or groups based on their behavior. This labeling can be positive or negative, depending on whether the behavior is considered acceptable or unacceptable by society.


Stigma refers to the negative social consequences that result from being labeled as deviant. This can include discrimination, exclusion from mainstream society, and loss of opportunities such as employment or housing.

Secondary Deviance

Secondary deviance refers to further acts of deviance that occur after an individual has been labeled as deviant. This can occur due to the stigmatization and exclusion experienced by the individual.

The Impact of Social Reaction Theory

Social Reaction Theory has had a significant impact on criminology and our understanding of criminal behavior. It has highlighted the importance of social processes in shaping criminal behavior and has challenged traditional criminological theories that focused solely on individual factors.

However, the theory has also been criticized for its focus on the labeling process and its failure to address the root causes of criminal behavior such as poverty, inequality, and social injustice.

In Conclusion

In summary, Social Reaction Theory offers a unique perspective on criminal behavior by emphasizing the role of social processes in shaping deviance. While it has its limitations, this theory has contributed greatly to our understanding of crime and the criminal justice system. Understanding this theory can help us to better understand how society labels individuals and groups as deviant and how this labeling can impact their lives.