Who Created Social Reaction Theory?


Martha Robinson

The Social Reaction Theory, also known as the labeling theory, is a sociological perspective that examines how society’s reaction to an individual’s behavior can influence their future actions and self-identity. This theory suggests that individuals are not inherently deviant but become labeled as such through social interactions.

Origins of the Social Reaction Theory

The Social Reaction Theory was first introduced by sociologists Howard Becker and Edwin Lemert in the mid-20th century. Howard Becker’s book “Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance,” published in 1963, is considered a seminal work in this field.

Howard Becker:

Howard Becker was an American sociologist who played a significant role in shaping the Social Reaction Theory. He argued that deviance is not a characteristic of an individual or their behavior but rather a result of societal reactions to certain behaviors. Becker emphasized that societal reactions, such as labeling someone as deviant, can lead to the creation and perpetuation of deviant identities.

Edwin Lemert:

Edwin Lemert expanded upon Becker’s ideas by introducing the concept of primary and secondary deviance. Primary deviance refers to acts that may be considered deviant but have minimal consequences for an individual’s self-identity. On the other hand, secondary deviance occurs when an individual internalizes society’s negative labels and begins to identify with their deviant status.

The Key Concepts

Social Interaction:

The Social Reaction Theory emphasizes the importance of social interaction in determining whether certain behaviors are labeled as deviant or not. It suggests that individuals learn what is considered acceptable or unacceptable through their interactions with others.

Labeling Process:

This theory asserts that the labeling process plays a crucial role in the formation of deviant identities. When an individual is labeled as deviant, it can lead to stigmatization and exclusion from mainstream society, which may further reinforce their deviant behavior.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy:

The Social Reaction Theory also highlights the self-fulfilling prophecy effect. This phenomenon occurs when individuals internalize the labels assigned to them and begin to act according to those expectations. For example, if someone is labeled as a “troublemaker,” they may start behaving in ways that fulfill that expectation.

Applications of the Social Reaction Theory

The Social Reaction Theory has been widely applied in criminology and sociology to explain various aspects of deviant behavior and its consequences. It has helped researchers understand how societal reactions can contribute to the perpetuation of criminal or deviant identities.

Criminal Justice System:

This theory has influenced discussions surrounding the criminal justice system’s role in labeling individuals as criminals and the subsequent impact on their reintegration into society after serving their sentences.

Stigma and Discrimination:

The Social Reaction Theory also sheds light on how stigmatization and discrimination can arise from societal reactions to certain behaviors or characteristics. It helps explain how individuals may internalize these labels and experience negative consequences in various domains of life, such as employment opportunities or social relationships.

In Conclusion

The Social Reaction Theory, developed by Howard Becker and expanded upon by Edwin Lemert, provides valuable insights into how societal reactions influence an individual’s self-identity and future actions. By understanding this theory, we can gain a deeper understanding of deviant behavior and work towards creating more inclusive societies that do not solely rely on labeling individuals based on their actions.