Edwin Lemert's Theory of Primary and Secondary Deviance

In the realm of sociology, the concept of deviance has been extensively studied and debated, with Edwin Lemert’s theory of primary and secondary deviance serving as a foundational framework for understanding the complex interplay between individuals and society.

Lemert’s theory posits that deviance is not an inherent characteristic of an act but rather a label that is applied to certain behaviors by society. This distinction between primary and secondary deviance is crucial in comprehending the process by which individuals become labeled as deviant and the subsequent consequences they face.

To delve deeper into Lemert’s theory, it is necessary to examine the definitions and implications of primary and secondary deviance.

edwin lemert described primary deviance as

Edwin Lemert’s theory of primary and secondary deviance is a significant contribution to the sociological understanding of deviance and its consequences.

  • Deviance as societal label
  • Primary deviance: initial deviant act
  • Secondary deviance: response to societal reaction
  • Stigmatization and social control
  • Labeling theory perspective
  • Negative societal consequences
  • Deviant career and self-concept
  • Social construction of deviance
  • Norm violation and societal expectations
  • Influence on criminology and sociology

Lemert’s theory highlights the dynamic interaction between individuals and society in the context of deviance, emphasizing the role of societal reactions in shaping individual behavior and identity.

Deviance as societal label

Edwin Lemert’s theory of primary and secondary deviance is rooted in the idea that deviance is not an inherent quality of an act but rather a label that is applied to certain behaviors by society. This perspective challenges the notion that deviance is a fixed characteristic of individuals and instead emphasizes the social and interactive nature of defining what is considered deviant.

  • Societal norms and expectations:

    Societies establish norms and expectations that guide individual behavior. Deviance occurs when an individual violates these norms, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

  • Labeling and stigmatization:

    When an individual is labeled as deviant, they may experience stigmatization, which can have significant consequences for their social status, opportunities, and self-concept.

  • Social control and power dynamics:

    The labeling of deviance is often a form of social control, used to maintain societal order and reinforce conformity. Those in positions of power and authority often play a role in defining what is considered deviant.

  • Subjective and context-dependent:

    The definition of deviance is subjective and can vary across different societies, cultures, and historical periods. What is considered deviant in one context may be acceptable or even praised in another.

Lemert’s theory highlights the dynamic and interactive nature of deviance, emphasizing the role of societal reactions and labeling in shaping individual behavior and identity.

Primary deviance: initial deviant act

Primary deviance refers to the initial act of deviance that an individual engages in, prior to being labeled as deviant by society. It is important to note that primary deviance is not necessarily a serious or harmful act, and it may not even be recognized as deviant by the individual themselves.

There are several factors that can contribute to primary deviance, including:

  • Situational factors: An individual may engage in deviant behavior due to specific circumstances or situations, such as peer pressure, financial hardship, or a desire for excitement.
  • Cultural norms and values: Individuals may engage in behavior that is considered deviant in their particular culture or subculture, but not in others.
  • Biological and psychological factors: Some individuals may be more prone to engaging in deviant behavior due to genetic or psychological factors.

It is important to distinguish between primary deviance and secondary deviance. Primary deviance is the initial act itself, while secondary deviance refers to the behavior that an individual engages in as a response to being labeled as deviant.

Lemert’s theory emphasizes that primary deviance is often a relatively minor act that may not have significant consequences for the individual. However, the societal reaction to primary deviance can lead to secondary deviance, as the individual may adopt a deviant identity and engage in more serious or persistent deviant behavior.

Secondary deviance: response to societal reaction

Secondary deviance refers to the behavior that an individual engages in as a response to being labeled as deviant by society. It is a more serious and persistent form of deviance that can have significant consequences for the individual’s life.

There are several factors that can contribute to secondary deviance, including:

  • Stigmatization and social rejection: When an individual is labeled as deviant, they may experience stigmatization and social rejection, which can lead to feelings of isolation, shame, and anger.
  • Negative self-concept: The labeling of deviance can lead to a negative self-concept, as the individual may internalize the label and see themselves as a deviant.
  • Deviant peer groups: Individuals who have been labeled as deviant may seek out and associate with others who have similar labels, forming deviant peer groups that reinforce and support deviant behavior.
  • Limited opportunities: Individuals who have been labeled as deviant may face limited opportunities for employment, education, and housing, which can further contribute to their deviant behavior.

Secondary deviance is a complex and often self-perpetuating process. Once an individual has been labeled as deviant, they may find it difficult to escape that label and return to conventional behavior.

Lemert’s theory of primary and secondary deviance highlights the importance of societal reactions in shaping individual behavior. By labeling certain behaviors as deviant, society can create a cycle of deviance that is difficult to break.

Stigmatization and social control

Stigmatization and social control are two key concepts in Edwin Lemert’s theory of primary and secondary deviance. Stigmatization refers to the process by which an individual is labeled as deviant and experiences negative social consequences as a result. Social control refers to the mechanisms that society uses to maintain order and conformity.

  • Labeling and social identity: When an individual is labeled as deviant, they may internalize that label and adopt a deviant identity. This can lead to a negative self-concept and a sense of alienation from society.
  • Social rejection and discrimination: Individuals who are labeled as deviant may experience social rejection and discrimination, which can limit their opportunities for employment, education, and housing. They may also be subjected to verbal or physical abuse.
  • Surveillance and punishment: Individuals who are labeled as deviant may be subjected to increased surveillance and punishment by law enforcement and other authorities. This can further stigmatize the individual and make it difficult for them to reintegrate into society.
  • Deviant subcultures: Stigmatization and social control can lead to the formation of deviant subcultures, where individuals who have been labeled as deviant come together to support and validate each other’s behavior.

Lemert’s theory highlights the powerful role that stigmatization and social control play in shaping the behavior of individuals who have been labeled as deviant. These processes can create a cycle of deviance that is difficult to break.

Labeling theory perspective

Edwin Lemert’s theory of primary and secondary deviance is closely aligned with the labeling theory perspective in sociology. Labeling theory emphasizes the role that societal reactions play in shaping individual behavior, particularly in the context of deviance.

  • Social construction of deviance: Labeling theory argues that deviance is not an inherent quality of an act, but rather a label that is applied to certain behaviors by society. What is considered deviant in one context may be acceptable or even praised in another.
  • Labeling and self-concept: When an individual is labeled as deviant, they may internalize that label and adopt a deviant identity. This can lead to a negative self-concept and a sense of alienation from society.
  • Deviant career: Labeling theory suggests that once an individual has been labeled as deviant, they may embark on a “deviant career,” where they engage in increasingly serious and persistent deviant behavior.
  • Negative societal consequences: Labeling as deviant can have significant negative consequences for individuals, including stigmatization, social rejection, and limited opportunities.

Lemert’s theory of primary and secondary deviance provides a detailed explanation of the process by which individuals become labeled as deviant and the consequences they face. His work has had a profound influence on the field of sociology and has contributed to a better understanding of the complex relationship between deviance and society.

Negative societal consequences

Edwin Lemert’s theory of primary and secondary deviance highlights the significant negative consequences that individuals can face as a result of being labeled as deviant. These consequences can have a profound impact on their lives and make it difficult for them to reintegrate into society.

Some of the negative societal consequences of being labeled as deviant include:

  • Stigmatization and social rejection: Individuals who are labeled as deviant may experience stigmatization and social rejection, which can lead to feelings of isolation, shame, and anger. They may be excluded from social activities and opportunities, and they may face discrimination in employment, housing, and education.
  • Limited opportunities: Individuals who have been labeled as deviant may face limited opportunities for employment, education, and housing. They may be denied jobs or promotions, they may be unable to obtain loans or credit, and they may be forced to live in贫困neighborhoods.
  • Increased surveillance and punishment: Individuals who have been labeled as deviant may be subjected to increased surveillance and punishment by law enforcement and other authorities. They may be stopped and questioned more frequently, they may be searched more often, and they may be more likely to be arrested and convicted of crimes.
  • Negative self-concept: The labeling of deviance can lead to a negative self-concept, as the individual may internalize the label and see themselves as a deviant. This can lead to low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety.

The negative societal consequences of being labeled as deviant can be severe and long-lasting. They can make it difficult for individuals to turn their lives around and reintegrate into society.

Lemert’s theory emphasizes the importance of understanding the negative consequences of labeling deviance. By recognizing the harm that can be caused by labeling individuals as deviant, we can work to create a more just and inclusive society.

Deviant career and self-concept

Edwin Lemert’s theory of primary and secondary deviance proposes that individuals who are labeled as deviant may embark on a “deviant career,” where they engage in increasingly serious and persistent deviant behavior. This process is often driven by the negative societal consequences that individuals face as a result of being labeled as deviant.

The labeling of deviance can lead to a negative self-concept, as the individual may internalize the label and see themselves as a deviant. This can lead to feelings of shame, guilt, and low self-esteem. In an attempt to cope with these negative feelings, the individual may engage in further deviant behavior as a way of asserting their identity or gaining a sense of belonging.

As the individual continues to engage in deviant behavior, they may become more skilled at it and develop a stronger deviant identity. They may also associate with other deviant individuals, which can further reinforce their deviant behavior. This can lead to a cycle of deviance, where the individual becomes increasingly involved in deviant activities and finds it difficult to break free.

The concept of a deviant career highlights the importance of early intervention to prevent individuals from embarking on a path of persistent deviance. By providing support and resources to individuals who are at risk of engaging in deviant behavior, we can help them to develop a positive self-concept and avoid the negative consequences of being labeled as deviant.

Lemert’s theory of primary and secondary deviance provides a valuable framework for understanding the complex relationship between deviance, self-concept, and societal reactions. By recognizing the factors that can lead to a deviant career, we can work to develop strategies to prevent and intervene in this process.

Social construction of deviance

Edwin Lemert’s theory of primary and secondary deviance emphasizes the social construction of deviance. This means that deviance is not an inherent quality of an act, but rather a label that is applied to certain behaviors by society. What is considered deviant in one context may be acceptable or even praised in another.

The social construction of deviance is influenced by a number of factors, including:

  • Cultural norms and values: Societies establish norms and values that guide individual behavior. Deviance occurs when an individual violates these norms, whether intentionally or unintentionally.
  • Power and authority: Those in positions of power and authority often play a role in defining what is considered deviant. Laws and regulations are created to enforce societal norms and values, and those who violate these laws are labeled as deviant.
  • Social change: As societies change, so too do the norms and values that define deviance. Behaviors that were once considered deviant may become acceptable, and vice versa. For example, homosexuality was once considered a mental illness, but it is now widely accepted as a normal variation of human sexuality.

The social construction of deviance has a profound impact on individuals who are labeled as deviant. They may experience stigmatization, discrimination, and social rejection. They may also find it difficult to obtain employment, housing, and education. In some cases, they may even be subjected to violence or imprisonment.

Lemert’s theory challenges the traditional view of deviance as a fixed and inherent characteristic of individuals. Instead, it emphasizes the role that society plays in defining and labeling deviance. This perspective has important implications for how we think about and respond to deviance in society.

Norm violation and societal expectations

Edwin Lemert’s theory of primary and secondary deviance is rooted in the idea that deviance occurs when an individual violates societal norms and expectations. Norms are unwritten rules that guide behavior in a particular society or group. They define what is considered to be acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

Societal expectations are the specific behaviors that are expected of individuals in a given situation. These expectations can vary depending on factors such as age, gender, social class, and culture.

When an individual violates a societal norm or expectation, they may be labeled as deviant. This can happen intentionally or unintentionally. For example, someone who breaks the law is intentionally violating a societal norm. Someone who accidentally says something offensive may unintentionally violate a societal expectation.

The reaction to norm violation can vary depending on the severity of the violation and the context in which it occurs. Some norm violations may be met with mild disapproval, while others may result in serious consequences, such as arrest or imprisonment.

Lemert’s theory highlights the importance of understanding the social and cultural context in which deviance occurs. What is considered deviant in one society or group may be perfectly acceptable in another. It is also important to consider the individual’s intent when they violate a norm or expectation. Some violations may be unintentional or the result of circumstances beyond the individual’s control.

Influence on criminology and sociology

Edwin Lemert’s theory of primary and secondary deviance has had a profound influence on the fields of criminology and sociology. It has helped to shift the focus away from the individual offender and towards the social and cultural factors that contribute to deviance.

  • Labeling theory: Lemert’s theory is closely aligned with labeling theory, which emphasizes the role that societal reactions play in shaping individual behavior. According to labeling theory, deviance is not an inherent quality of an act, but rather a label that is applied to certain behaviors by society. This perspective has challenged traditional notions of crime and deviance and has led to a more nuanced understanding of these phenomena.
  • Social construction of deviance: Lemert’s theory highlights the social construction of deviance, meaning that deviance is not a fixed or inherent characteristic of individuals, but rather a label that is applied to certain behaviors by society. This perspective has led to a greater understanding of the role that power, authority, and social norms play in defining what is considered deviant.
  • Deviant career: Lemert’s concept of a deviant career has been influential in criminology. It suggests that deviance is not a one-time event, but rather a process that can lead to a pattern of persistent deviant behavior. This perspective has helped to explain why some individuals become involved in serious and chronic criminal activity.
  • Crime prevention and intervention: Lemert’s theory has also had an impact on crime prevention and intervention strategies. By understanding the social and cultural factors that contribute to deviance, policymakers and practitioners can develop more effective programs to prevent crime and help individuals who are at risk of engaging in deviant behavior.

Overall, Edwin Lemert’s theory of primary and secondary deviance has been a major contribution to the fields of criminology and sociology. It has helped to deepen our understanding of deviance and crime, and it has led to the development of more effective crime prevention and intervention strategies.

FAQ

The following are frequently asked questions about Edwin Lemert’s theory of primary and secondary deviance:

Question 1: What is primary deviance?
Primary deviance refers to the initial act of deviance that an individual engages in, prior to being labeled as deviant by society. It is often a minor or relatively harmless act that may not even be recognized as deviant by the individual themselves.

Question 2: What is secondary deviance?
Secondary deviance refers to the behavior that an individual engages in as a response to being labeled as deviant by society. It is often more serious and persistent than primary deviance, and can lead to a deviant career.

Question 3: What is the difference between primary and secondary deviance?
Primary deviance is the initial act of deviance, while secondary deviance is the response to being labeled as deviant. Primary deviance is often minor and may not be recognized as deviant by the individual, while secondary deviance is more serious and persistent.

Question 4: What is the labeling theory perspective?
The labeling theory perspective is a sociological theory that emphasizes the role that societal reactions play in shaping individual behavior. It argues that deviance is not an inherent quality of an act, but rather a label that is applied to certain behaviors by society. This perspective has challenged traditional notions of crime and deviance.

Question 5: What is the social construction of deviance?
The social construction of deviance refers to the idea that deviance is not a fixed or inherent characteristic of individuals, but rather a label that is applied to certain behaviors by society. This perspective highlights the role that power, authority, and social norms play in defining what is considered deviant.

Question 6: What is a deviant career?
A deviant career is a pattern of persistent deviant behavior that an individual engages in over time. It is often the result of being labeled as deviant by society and experiencing negative consequences as a result. A deviant career can lead to serious problems for the individual, including social isolation, unemployment, and criminal activity.

Question 7: How has Lemert’s theory influenced criminology and sociology?
Lemert’s theory has had a profound influence on the fields of criminology and sociology. It has helped to shift the focus away from the individual offender and towards the social and cultural factors that contribute to deviance. Lemert’s theory has also led to a greater understanding of the role that societal reactions play in shaping individual behavior.

I hope these answers have been helpful in providing you with a better understanding of Edwin Lemert’s theory of primary and secondary deviance.

If you have any further questions, please feel free to ask.

Now that you have a better understanding of Lemert’s theory, you can learn more about it by reading some of his works or by exploring the resources listed in the “Additional Resources” section below.

Tips

Here are a few tips for learning more about Edwin Lemert’s theory of primary and secondary deviance:

Tip 1: Read Lemert’s work.
The best way to learn about Lemert’s theory is to read his work firsthand. His most influential book is “Social Pathology” (1951), which provides a detailed exposition of his theory. Other important works include “Human Deviance, Social Problems, and Social Control” (1967) and “Social Action and Reaction in Social Control” (1970).

Tip 2: Explore online resources.
There are a number of online resources available that provide information about Lemert’s theory. Some helpful websites include:

  • Edwin M. Lemert – Britannica
  • Edwin M. Lemert – Encyclopedia
  • Edwin M. Lemert – American Sociological Association

Tip 3: Talk to your professors or classmates.
If you are a student, talk to your professors or classmates about Lemert’s theory. They may be able to provide you with additional insights and resources.

Tip 4: Attend a conference or workshop.
There are often conferences and workshops held on the topic of deviance and social control. Attending one of these events can be a great way to learn more about Lemert’s theory and to network with other scholars in the field.

I hope these tips have been helpful in providing you with some ideas for how to learn more about Edwin Lemert’s theory of primary and secondary deviance.

Remember, the best way to learn about Lemert’s theory is to read his work and to engage with other scholars in the field. By doing so, you can gain a deeper understanding of this important theory and its implications for our understanding of deviance and social control.

Now that you have learned more about Lemert’s theory, you can use this knowledge to better understand the social world around you. By paying attention to the ways in which deviance is defined and labeled, you can develop a more critical understanding of the social forces that shape our lives.

Conclusion

Edwin Lemert’s theory of primary and secondary deviance is a significant contribution to the sociological understanding of deviance and its consequences. Lemert’s theory challenges the traditional view of deviance as a fixed and inherent characteristic of individuals, and instead emphasizes the role that societal reactions play in shaping individual behavior and identity.

Lemert’s theory has had a profound influence on the fields of criminology and sociology, and it continues to be a valuable framework for understanding deviance and social control. His work has helped to shift the focus away from the individual offender and towards the social and cultural factors that contribute to deviance. It has also led to a greater understanding of the role that societal reactions play in shaping individual behavior.

In short, Lemert’s theory provides a nuanced and insightful perspective on deviance and its consequences. It is a valuable tool for understanding the complex relationship between individuals and society, and it has important implications for how we think about and respond to deviance in society.

I hope this article has provided you with a better understanding of Edwin Lemert’s theory of primary and secondary deviance. If you would like to learn more about this topic, I encourage you to read Lemert’s work and to explore the resources listed in the “Additional Resources” section below.



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