The labeling theory: an empirical test
Cahn, Thomas Edward
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Proponents of labeling theory argue that the labels we use to identify things are not merely harmless words, but, in fact, shape and control experience to some degree. Others, such as W. E. B. Dubois, argued that names only identify things and if one changes a label by which a thing is identified the meaning will not be changed. The major aim of the present study was to determine if there were any significant differences in responses elicited from a random sample of the white population of Roanoke, Virginia, by using varied minority group labels (Negro, Colored, Afro-American, Black). The random sample of 800 was divided into four groups cf 200, each receiving a different form of the questionnaire. Proposed differentiation responses were measured by the use of mean prejudice scores on a cognitive, emotional and action level. The data revealed that there was no significant differences in prejudice scores elicited by the use of varied minority group labels (Negro, Colored, Afro-American, Black). This study, as opposed to traditional labeling-theory, utilizes the group as the unit of analysis and did not presume the passivity of the labelee. Therefore this would tend to indicate that labeling theory, when the unit of analysis is the group, should take into consideration resistance to and counter-application of labels by the labelees.
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