Rains Imputations of Deviance

Rains, Prudence "Imputations of Deviance," Social Problems 23:1-11.

This is actually a pretty good article (or at least it makes a good point) but I had to re-read it a couple of times before I got her main point. She wants to identify what she sees as a main theoretical strain in labeling theories. To get at two contrasting orientations in the various versions of the theories she focuses on the use of the word "putative."

Lemert used the word to refer to that part of a person's labeled identity which was unwarranted. For example, girls in correctional facilities are not necessarily sexual deviants but they are often assumed to be so.

Thinkers like Kitsuse use the word to imply that they are setting questions of actual deviance aside, treating all societal reactions as imputations.

In practice, Rains says, a compromise between these two views shows up in many treatments. It involves maintaining the distinction between warranted and unwarranted labels, but focussing on the unwarranted. The compromise is sort of the bleeding heart liberal's version of labeling theory. It starts sounding like the idea that all labels are unwarranted and that persons labeled deviant are always victims.

The compromise position (I'd call it the common mis-reading) fails to take advantage of the ethnomethodological insight that we can put aside questions of actual deviance and look at the process of imputation without regard to warrant, and thus "describe deviance and social control as a single co-constituted reality."

This is a real good positioning of labeling theory on the deviance and social control theory spectrum. Think of labeling theory as a sort of unified theory of deviance and social control.