Social Reaction Theory, also known as Labeling Theory, is a criminological theory that focuses on the social and cultural processes that lead to criminal behavior. This theory suggests that people become criminals because of the way society reacts to their behavior rather than their actual actions. In other words, it is not the crime itself that leads to criminal behavior but rather the reaction of society towards the person committing the crime.

The Basic Principles of Social Reaction Theory

According to Social Reaction Theory, criminal behavior is a result of societal reaction and labeling. A person’s actions are not inherently criminal; it is only when society labels them as such that they become criminal. This labeling can have a significant impact on how a person views themselves and can lead to further criminal behavior.

Primary and Secondary Deviance

Social Reaction Theory distinguishes between two types of deviance: primary and secondary. Primary deviance refers to the initial act of deviance, such as stealing or drug use. Secondary deviance occurs when a person internalizes their label as a deviant and begins to engage in more deviant behavior.

The Role of Power in Labeling

Social Reaction Theory also acknowledges that power plays a crucial role in labeling individuals as criminals. Those who hold power in society, such as law enforcement officials or politicians, have more influence over who gets labeled as a criminal and how they are punished.


In conclusion, Social Reaction Theory, also known as Labeling Theory, is an essential criminological theory that explains how societal reactions and labels can lead to criminal behavior. It highlights the importance of looking beyond an individual’s actions to understand why they engage in criminal behavior. By using this theory, we can work towards creating a more just and fair society where individuals are not unfairly labeled or discriminated against based on their actions.