Chapter 5
On Understanding the Processes of
Schooling: The Contributions of
Labeling Theory
“If men define situations as real, they are
real in their consequences.”
W.I. Thomas in Sadovnik
Labeling Theory
• An explanatory framework 
Process of Labeling as a Mechanism 
reflect teacher expectations 
operationalized within the classroom
self – fulfilling prophecy
Labeling Perspective
• Becoming Deviant; created by groups
definitions/reactions; not a quality of
• Deviance is created by society*
• Application of the label is a process
• Who has the power to make determinations?
• There is not a clear consensus regarding norm
violation in a complex/heterogeneous society
Labeling and Stigma
• Prisons, mental health institutions, schools
• Erickson  society maintains social deviance and
labeling to clarify group boundaries and solidarity
• Unintended consequence of confirming deviance
further the stigma and social effects of labeling
Teacher Expectations
• Shift attention from the “deviant” to those who are
making the judgement; social forces that effect the
• Teacher is the judge in the school setting  teacher
determines student certification
Key Determinants*
• 1) students prior performance: tests, tracking, ability
grouping, prior teacher assessments/conversations
• 2) social status characteristics: race/ethnicity, class,
gender, grooming, dress, free lunch, parent participation
and family activities
• 3) present performance: standardized tests including
informal/subjective factors i.e. attractiveness
** high SES less likely to be labeled deviant
* researched based findings
• “Standardized test scores are taken as an
unquestioned, non-problematic reflection of the
child’s underlying ability. The authority of the test
to measure the child’s real ability is accepted by both
teachers and other school officials. Test results are
accepted without doubt as the correct and valid
document of the child’s ability.”
Mehan (in Sadovnik)
Teacher Behavior
• Teacher expectations effect classroom interaction and
student placement;
• Perception of high achievement:
 wait longer for answers
 praise more often for success
 criticize less for failure
Outcome  Self – fulfilling
• Expectations  influence behavior
• False definition  evokes new behavior 
application of others rules  labeled as deviant
• Authority of the teacher  student moves toward
conformity with label
• **Requires a consistent response between teacher
and the student
• Need to look at ways that schools support labeling
mechanisms i.e. how they operate, what are the
outcomes ** how evaluative tags affect options for
• ** Labeling theory provides a conceptual framework
by which to understand the processes of
transforming attitudes into behavior and the
outcome of having done so.