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unless so labeled. Labeling thus refers to

the process by which behaviors come to be categorized

as deviant or criminal. Each society

makes rules whose breach will constitute deviance

or criminality.

Labeling is a derivative of the widely used sociological

idea of symbolic interactionism. Interactionist

theory analyzes the way in which individual

actors develop conceptions of themselves on the

basis of their interactions with others. This gives

meaning to the behavior of individuals and places

their actions and behavior in the context of their

understanding of the world. Culture, sex, age, and

other elements of identity all shape self-conception,

of course, but the interactionists give particular

emphasis to the meanings which the individual

places on various occurrences and interactions.

Labeling theory is drawn from this, but focuses on

the impact of being labeled in a particular way on


Early 1930s work on juvenile gangs led sociological

writers to recognize that the official label

of “deviant” had potentially negative effects on

the young people concerned. In the 1950s, Edwin

Lemert in Social Pathology (1951) refined the thinking

by distinguishing between primary and secondary

deviation. While primary deviance might

be a temporary aberration, secondary deviance

was created as a reaction to the reaction of others

to the initial deviance. But labeling theory is most

strongly associated with Howard S. Becker in his

Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance (1963).

His perspective on labeling revolved around the

social reactions of a group rather than individual

reactions. In a series of studies he described the

processes of becoming a prostitute or a marijuana

smoker and so on. In each case, it was the stigma

attached to the label that was critical in shaping

future behavior. Thus the labeling processes

created “outsiders” and a self-fulfilling prophecy

ensued. The processes of criminal justice are thus

perceived to be instrumental in making matters


By focusing on definitional issues, labeling theory

has injected important critical thinking into criminological

theorizing. It has revealed how the concepts

of crime and deviance are not universally

agreed but socially constructed. But labeling theory

itself has attracted criticism for being ahistorical,

astructural, and atheoretical. First, it is argued that

labeling fails to explain why some behaviors are

labeled as deviant in the first place; second, it is

suggested that labeling theory gives too little attention

to the concept and exercise of power; and

third, it is thought that labeling theory is hard to

test empirically. More pointedly, it is thought that

the key question of whose interests are being protected

in the labeling of some people’s behavior

and actions as “deviant” has been neglected. Other

criticisms relate to the neglect of the victim in the


Despite criticisms, labeling theory has had far--

reaching effects in sociological thinking that go

well beyond the sociology of deviance; for instance,

labeling theory has been applied to witchcraft and



This concept has several standard referents in

sociology, covering specific forms of paid employment

(such as manual labor); generic features of

such employment, often conceived as one pole of

a relationship between labor and capital; the differentiation

and relationships between the whole

range of different sorts of paid work (representing

the division of labor); and the collective organization

of workers in a labor movement or party. All

these concepts were formulated in the specific

context of the development of capitalism and its

associated forms of waged employment, and analyses

using these concepts are particularly associated

with theoretical traditions (both Marxist and

non-Marxist) that have addressed the character

and dynamics of social class relations in industrial



However, analyses of labor have moved beyond

these core debates about capitalist industrialism

in several ways. First, “free” wage labor has

been compared with forms of unfree labor (such

as slavery and bonded labor), both outside and

within capitalism, as in R. Miles’s Capitalism and

Unfree Labour (1987). Second, analyses of the social

division of labor and specific forms of labor have

been extended beyond the formal sphere of paid

work to include work in the household (that is,

domestic labor), and voluntary and informal economies,

as in C. Tilly and C. Tilly’s Work Under

Capitalism (1998). Finally, there has been attention

to expanding forms of paid work in postindustrial

societies, such as knowledge work, insecure employment,

and emotional labor, and the extent

to which they can be analyzed within a labor


First, then, labor usually refers both to paid

work and to those who do that work, as one side

of the relationship between labor and capital or

employees and employers. This relationship is central

to arguments about the fundamental features

of waged employment (see work and employment)

and hence the organization of work and industrial

relations in capitalist societies. Such features are

addressed in different conceptualizations of the

labor market, the labor contract, and the labor

process in such societies, and link directly with

debates about changing social class structures and

forms of class mobilization. The growth of labor

markets, in which workers become available for

hire to work for specified periods for a wage, sets

capitalism apart from earlier societies. However,

the implications of this development for relations

between employers and workers are contentious:

some economic accounts treat such markets as

the guarantors of equivalent choices and reciprocity

between employers and workers, while

most sociological accounts emphasize that inequalities

of power are intrinsic to the labor

market and to social relations between employees

and employers within the capitalist labor process.

At the nexus of the relationship between the

labor market and the labor process is the labor

contract, which in formal legal terms summarizes

the exchange between employer and employee,

specifying such matters as job title, hours, and

payment. Different and changing legal frameworks

have defined the form, scope, and detail of

such contracts in very varied ways. But a fundamental

argument of many sociological analyses of

labor is that any such summary is necessarily

incomplete, with important implications for the

character of employment relations. Sometimes

this argument rests on the claim that all market

exchanges depend upon more than the stipulated

terms and conditions of exchange, because they

rely on wider institutional and normative frameworks

which are often taken for granted and

would be impossible to specify completely. This

theme relates to E´mile Durkheim’s notion of the

“noncontractual elements in contract” in which

informal assumptions and agreements are seen to

be a necessary precondition of formal contracts

and agreements.

More crucially, however, it rests on the claim

that the labor contract is quite distinctive in ways

that set it apart from the purchase and sale of

other commodities, for two related reasons. First,

workers do not sell their labor and depart, but

have to perform their work through their working

hours; thus what they sell is their own capacity to

labor, what Karl Marx termed the purchase and

sale of their labor power. Second, the demands

that employers make of their workers are not

fixed, but flow from the changing circumstances

of their business, as they exercise “management

prerogatives” to reconfigure the duties workers

perform while at work.

This conception of the open-endedness of the

labor contract is central to Marxist accounts of

the relationship between labor and capital, setting

the scene for an analysis of the changes and

conflicts that arise as capitalists seek to impose

the requirements of capital accumulation upon

workers, and workers experience and oppose the

damage this inflicts upon them. However, it has a

more general relevance across a spectrum of social

science analyses of employment and industrial relations.

It excludes those economists who argue that

the equivalence of the labor market transaction

persistently guarantees reciprocity between employers

and workers, and those sociologists who

abstract from the labor contract and employment

relations in their study of other aspects of work and

occupations. But it defines common ground between

many other Marxist and non-Marxist materialist

and institutionalist approaches, all of

which attend to the power relations and social

processes implicated in filling out the labor contract,

as P. K. Edwards shows in Conflict at Work

(1986). Where these positions differ markedly is in

their specification of the character and extent of

the uncertainties and conflicts that arise around

the performance of paid work, and in their analyses

of the ways in which, and the extent to which,

such uncertainties and conflicts are successfully

managed or negotiated. Indeed, some of these approaches

(such as industrial relations pluralism)

labor labor


devote relatively little attention to analyzing

underlying sources of uncertainty and conflict,

but concentrate on the processes through which

empirically identified contention in the workplace

is managed.

One way in which these disagreements can be

illuminated is by considering the ways in which

work processes within capitalist firms are structured

and restructured over time, through analyses

of management’s organization of the labor

process and labor discipline within the workplace.

One example is Marx’s analysis of the effective

subordination of workers and work processes to

the requirements of surplus extraction and capital

accumulation. However, during the twentieth

century, other sociological traditions – such as

those which focus on the institutionalization of

formal rationality in bureaucracies or those that

see organizational arrangements as heavily influenced

by the technology required for particular

work processes – have provided alternative bases

for analyzing the imperatives governing the organization

of the labor process in capitalist (and

sometimes noncapitalist) societies. In turn this

has prompted extensive debate on the changing

character of management strategies and worker

responses in the organization of the labor process.

These debates have important implications for

analyses of the division of labor. From Adam

Smith (1723–90) onward, commentaries have distinguished

between the social division of labor in

the economy as a whole and the technical (or, to

avoid implicit technical determinism, the organizational)

division of labor in the enterprise and

workplace. The former is portrayed as directly

subject to the vagaries of market relations, with

the growth and decline of demand for different

types of product and associated occupations. The

latter is seen as only indirectly subject to market

relations but directly subject to management

prerogatives and strategies.

Labor process debates have focused primarily

upon analyses of the organizational division of

labor. In particular, they have debated the extent

to which management strategies have forged relatively

homogeneous or heterogeneous workforces

in terms of skills, autonomies, and job security.

There has also been substantial disagreement

about how any heterogeneity is to be conceptualized,

in terms of stable hierarchies, or patterns of

polarization, or as a shifting kaleidoscope of forms

of labor. For example, it has been argued that

an important feature of the capitalist transformation

of the labor process has been an increasing

separation of manual and mental labor, in which

mental labor conceptualizes and plans work tasks

while manual labor performs those tasks. However,

it has also been recognized that the extent of such

separation, how far it might constitute a basis for

hierarchy or polarization in the organizational division

of labor, and its implications for wider processes

of class formation and conflict, have been

varied rather than uniform, while explanations of

these outcomes remain controversial.

Indeed, some accounts of emergent forms of employment

have suggested that networked, rather

than hierarchical, relations within organizations

and the growth of high-discretion knowledge work

have so changed work and employment relations

that all analyses using the conceptual apparatus

outlined above have lost their relevance. However,

the extent and character of these transformations

have been strongly contested by commentators

who have sought to demonstrate the continuing

salience of these analytical approaches for contemporary

forms of work and employment, as in

the work of H. Beynon and his colleagues on Managing

Employment Change (2002). Such controversies

relate not only to explanations of key features of

the division of labor but also to diagnoses of the

possibilities and conditions for ameliorating,

transforming, or abolishing those features.

Sometimes accounts of the organizational division

of labor within enterprises have been set

in a wider context, of the changing relations between

enterprises and sectors, to address the social

processes that constitute the wider social division

of labor, as in A. Sayer and R. Walker’s The New Social

Economy (1992). This involves analyses of: (1) the

ways in which management strategies in recruiting

and organizing labor in different enterprises contribute

to the structuring of wider labor markets,

at a variety of spatial scales from localities to national

economies and beyond; (2) the implications

of major sectoral shifts, from agriculture to manufacturing

to service employment, and also between

small-firm, large-firm, and state employment; (3)

the changing relationships between enterprises

and workplaces, mediated not only through competitive

market relations but also through alliances,

networks, and production chains. All these

aspects of the analysis of the social division of labor

can be seen, for example, in debates over the new

international division of labor, the proposition that

leading enterprises in advanced capitalist societies

have sought to relocate labor-intensive production

processes to developing societies characterized by

low labor costs and poorly organized workers,

while retaining knowledge-intensive activities at

home. The ensuing debate, outlined in R. Munck’s

labor labor


Globalisation and Labour (2002), explored different

ways in which such changes were organized,

sometimes coordinated within transnational corporations

but also mediated through production

chains involving hierarchies of enterprises. It also

emphasized that corporate policies were often contradictory,

and that the outcome was usually more

complex than a stable polarization of production

activities and forms of employment between advanced

and developing capitalisms.

Such analyses of the dynamics of the social division

of labor have primarily been developed in

interdisciplinary research, though with significant

contributions from economic sociology. More specifically,

sociological commentary has focused on

the consequences of the organizational and social

division of labor for patterns of social consciousness,

solidarity, and conflict. Here intellectual influences

range from neo-Marxist and neo-Weberian

explorations of the scope and limits of the formation

of wider class solidarities from the varied experiences

of wage labor, to symbolic interactionist

and social constructionist analyses of the negotiation

of occupational identities, boundaries, solidarities,

and rivalries. However, there has been

little recent reference to the more ambitious but

problematical Durkheimian program which explored

the occupational bases and limitations of

modern forms of social solidarity.

Meanwhile, one major sociological critique of

conventional analyses of the social division of labor

grew out of feminist analyses of the sexual division

of labor. These analyses problematized biological

accounts of the gendered division between male

workers in paid employment in the public sphere

and women engaged in unwaged household and

caring work. At the same time, they emphasized

the significance of the latter forms of work in

terms of time, tasks, and consequences for societal

reproduction. This was conceptualized in terms of

domestic labor to emphasize the parallels and linkages

between work in paid employment and

unpaid work in the household, but also involved

discussion of the distinctiveness of the power relations

and patterns of work characteristic of gender

relations in households and families, often conceptualized

in terms of patriarchy. In turn, and in the

context of a major change in women’s involvement

in paid employment, this has prompted analyses of

the ways in which gender, and in related ways

ethnicity, have been constitutive features in the

restructuring and hierarchization of both paid

labor and unpaid work. To address these features,

M. Glucksmann has developed the concept of the

total social organization of labor, in “Why ‘Work?’”

(1995) in Gender, Work and Organisation, to analyze

the varied and changing patterns of articulation

and dislocation between different forms of paid,

unpaid, voluntary, and forced labor over time and

across different social scales. TONY ELGER

labor, social division of

– see labor.

labor aristocracy

– see social class.

labor-market segmentation

– see labor market.

labor markets

These involve the purchase and sale of a peculiar

commodity, as what is bought and sold is actually

the capacity of a worker to perform paid work, and

the exercise of that capacity is not separated from

workers but depends on their conduct at work. The

supply of such capacities is influenced by wider

institutional arrangements (for example welfare

policies, family structures, or professional associations).

Similarly, demand is influenced by employment

relations within workplaces (for example

strategies for securing worker compliance, training

arrangements, and negotiations with workers).

From this vantage point, labor markets represent

an appropriate focus for sociological research.

Often, however, they are seen as the specialist preserve

of economists, while sociologists focus on

social relations within the workplace and treat

labor markets as exogenous variables. This leaves

unchallenged the dominant economic treatment

of the labor market as a competitive arena in

which employers and workers freely exercise choices

according to their talents and preferences.

This neoclassical model views the labor market

as a mechanism which, unimpeded, will generate

both reciprocity between buyers and sellers of

labor and an efficient allocation of labor to different

activities. Thus social institutions that influence

the supply of or demand for labor are

treated as exogenous givens or as distortions that

should be removed to allow the market to perform

its proper role. In response, some sociological approaches

to labor market analysis seek to marry

sociological analyses of values and institutions to

existing economic models, but others challenge

such economic models more directly.

Historical sociologists have analyzed the historical

conditions in which extensive labor markets

were formed, while also insisting that labor market

labor labor markets


mechanisms necessarily remain embedded in and

conditioned by wider forms of social regulation.

However, more specific challenges to neoclassical

economic models of labor markets were developed

from the late 1960s, initially by institutionalist and

neo-Marxist economists critical of the mainstream

but then taken up by other social scientists. J. Peck,

in Work-Place: The Social Regulation of Labor Markets

(1996), identifies several phases in the development

of this alternative analysis. The first phase, concerned

especially with the experience of advantaged

workers, developed a dual labor market model.

The primary labor market involved internal job

ladders, usually within large organizations, with

access to many jobs governed by internal administrative

rules and bargains. The secondary labor

market remained outside the firm, offering access

to insecure jobs with little scope for progression.

This model emphasized the role of management

in structuring the demand for labor: technical

imperatives encouraged managers to retain those

workers trained within the firm, who might be

tempted to move elsewhere, while those who were

deemed unsuitable for training were consigned to

the insecure periphery.

The next development also addressed the institutional

logic of the demand for labor, but within

a wider historical framework. This suggested that

multiple labor market segments arose from the

efforts of capitalist managers to divide and rule

the workforce, as recruitment was structured in

terms of occupational, gender, and ethnic divisions.

Such accounts sought to integrate segmented labor

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