This paper will focus on the societal reaction perspective to crime and deviance as developed in the works of Edwin Lemert, Howard S. Becker, and John Kitsuse. In addition to highlighting their key arguments, their works will be compared and contrasted for differences. Finally the societal reaction perspective, also known as the labeling perspective, will be applied to a specific form of deviance, illicit drug use. .
Edwin Lemert was one of the first theorists to begin working on the societal reaction perspective, around the early 1950's. He started with an idea which looked at how individuals made choices in terms of their cost and value. His view of choice making was not completely rational however, as he acknowledged that individuals were susceptible to pressures and constraints of objective reality. .
Lemert not only placed emphasis on the deviant's action, but he also studied the individuals who react to the deviance. The reactors tolerance quotient to deviance is perhaps one of the most significant factors in determining what will be reacted to. In some communities, many acts such as loitering and public begging may go unnoticed because of a higher tolerance quotient. However the same behavior in other communities would result in the actors being labeled deviant, as the tolerance quotient of the reactors is much lower. What is labeled deviant is also contingent on the community's values, standards, and when the deviance occurred. .
Lemert viewed deviance as an ongoing process that varied over time, and can undergo change. An individual can progress from a act of deviance that would be considered small such as petty theft, and later move to something much more serious such as armed robbery. Also Lemert noticed that most individuals will enter into acts of deviance at some points in their life, and then will return to normal living for the majority .