Applying Labelling Theory to Selected Short Stories by James T. Farrell

Afra S. Alshiban


For decades, “societal reaction theory” or “labelling theory” has provided the most significant explanation for deviant behaviour, particularly in the case of juveniles. The theory argues that once a stigma is attached to an individual, an irreversible process occurs whereby the labelled individual begins to identify as deviant and to embark on a deviant career. Hence, rather than deter bad behaviour, stigmatisation and shaming serve only to amplify it. Although the labelling perspective is rooted in sociology, we find proponents of some version of labelling theory in other disciplines, even in literature. The present study posits that in the short stories of Irish-American writer James Thomas Farrell entitled “Big Jeff,” “The Fastest Runner on Sixty-First Street,” “Young Convicts,” and “The Scarecrow,” labelling processes emerge as essential elements in a comprehensive understanding of each story. All four stories are the least critically acknowledged works by the author even though they demonstrate the author’s remarkable talent for illuminating the social and psychological factors associated with deviant behaviour among juveniles.


James Farrell, Labelling Theory, American Fiction, Interdisciplinary

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