First fully articulated in Howard Becker’s book Outsiders (see Thaddeus Müller’s recent article on Howard Becker‘s Outsiders and Clinton Sanders’ “Working with Howard Becker“), labeling theory has had a long and storied history in sociological theory. Yet in this history few have taken up the challenge of looking at how labeling happens in micro-interactional practice. In his paper, “Labeling in Interactional Practice: Applying Labeling Theory to Interactions and Interactional Analysis to Labeling“, Greg Thompson takes up this challenging by bringing labeling theory together with Goffman’s theory of framing in order to demonstrate how labeling can be studied at the level of micro-interactional practice.
Thompson’s paper pulls together work on the Pygmalion Effect and Stereotype Threat to propose a model of human interaction in which selves emerge in interactions with others. To this end, Thompson takes up an instance of positive labeling in a tutoring interaction in which a student appears to effectively have been labeled as “smarter than she thinks” by the tutor. The paper draws on Goffman’s framing theory to identify some of the conditions of the local interactional context that enabled this instance of labeling to be efficacious.
In closing, Thompson proposes that this interaction-based approach to labeling could help develop labeling theory into a complex and nuanced theory of the social constitution of human subjectivity in micro-interactional practice.
Some related articles include:
Fine, Gary Alan. 1992. “Agency, Structure, and Comparative Contexts: Toward a Synthetic Interactionism.” Symbolic Interaction15(1):87–107.
Glassner, Barry and Jay Corzine. 1978. “Can Labeling Theory Be Saved?” Symbolic Interaction 1(2):74–89.
Manning, Philip. 2000. “Credibility, Agency, and the Interaction Order.” Symbolic Interaction 23(3):283–97.