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A2 Unit 2 - Crime and Deviance

4) Interactionist perspective

Interactionists disagree with functionalist on both the idea that society has a consensus about what crime is and the idea that crime is caused by “external forces”. Instead Blumer said everybody commits crimes and deviance, it is more important to look at the way society reacts to this behaviour.

Howard Becker said that society creates rules, and by doing this anyone who acts outside of these rules is a deviant. Therefore the act itself isn’t deviant, it is how we label that act that makes it deviant. Interactionists would point out how in one context, an act is considered deviant, in another it is normal – it is only when it is done in a way that is not publicly defined as proper that it becomes deviant. For example, killing is not always deviant or criminal, during war it is more deviant to refuse to kill.

Interactionists say this labelling can lead to groups being victimized for crime. For example, the police might label black youths as more likely to be a criminal. So people of this group are more likely to be charged with a criminal offence. Furthermore, interactionists say this labelling can mean a person is singled out as deviant; this could result in the self-fulfilling prophecy of this person becoming the deviant they were labelled as.

Interactionists say that this targeting of certain groups by agents of social control can actually lead to a deviancy amplification spiral. This means that the public take sympathy with the way certain groups are treated, for example over-the-top media hatred, and this causes some of the public to join this victimized group of deviants. An example of this could be that after disturbances by mods and rockers in Clacton in 1984 led to heavy-handed treatment from the police, and this then led to more young people joining the mods and rockers out of hatred for the police.


+ The interactionist approach draws attention to the importance of labelling and societal reaction

+ It has also highlighted the fact that we have perceptions of a typical criminal; for example, the image the tabloids project of criminals

However critics point out that interactionists fail to say why people still commit crimes even though they know they are considered deviant

Interactionists also ignore why certain people are labelled as deviant and other people aren’t


About Sam Cook

A blog set up to help A Level students revise Sociology


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