Have you ever heard of the word labelling? This concept refers to a sociological theory of social behaviour which states that the behaviour of human beings is influenced significantly by the way other members in society label them. It’s a common occurrence in schools and universities. But labels are more than just the name your friends or teachers give you, they can also influence how people perceive you. This is particularly true when it comes to social class labels. A 1994 study of working-class students in a Midlands comprehensive school found that when the school divided students into three sets based on their perceived ability, three distinct, male, working-class peer groups developed: macho lads, academic achievers and new enterprisers. So what does this tell us about how labeling can impact our social class? Let’s take a closer look.
Stereotypes & Self-Fulfilling Prophecy
When it comes to labeling people according to their social class, stereotypes and self-fulfilling prophecies come into play. For example, if someone is labeled as “working class” then they may be more likely to be treated as such by those around them; causing them to feel less confident or capable than their peers who are not labeled as such. The result is that these individuals may start acting accordingly and thus the label becomes true. This is known as a self-fulfilling prophecy; where expectations become reality due to the behavior they elicit from those affected by them.
The Mac & Ghaill Study
The 1994 Mac & Ghaill study found that labels were not only damaging to individual students but could also spread across an entire school community due to peer pressure and group dynamics. The study showed that labelling led to several different types of behaviors amongst the students involved; ranging from overachieving in order to prove oneself worthy of being labeled “academic” or “new entrepreneur”; or conversely underachieving in order to fit into a specific group (e.g., “macho lads”). In either case the result was that stereotypes became self-fulfilling prophecies which had negative consequences for both individuals and groups alike.
It’s important for us all to remember that labels can have powerful effects on our lives, especially when it comes to social class. Labels like “working class” can lead people down a path of negative thinking which results in low self-esteem and poor performance at school or work. We should strive to be aware of how labeling affects us and others so we can make sure we’re not falling into any traps set by stereotypes or self-fulfilling prophecies. After all, everyone deserves an equal chance at success regardless of their background.
Why not check out A-Level sociology video ‘What are the Effects of Labelling Theory?‘, which explores concepts such as deviancy amplification, master status, labelling, self-fulfilling prophecy, moral entrepreneurs.