Deviant behaviour has sadly been a ongoing occurrence in society throughout history, more noticeably in life today. Sociologists have been provoked to study and form theories in order to try and explain why social phenomena such as suicide, prostitution and drug use occur in our society. The Interactionist Perspective (known to many as the Labelling Theory) is interested in social processes and examines deviant behaviour using such methods as social typing. The Labelling theory focuses how an individual is made deviant, instead of focusing on deviant acts. The Interactionists emphasise the role that meanings play in the creation of deviant behaviour and gain a greater understanding of what it means to commit actions that others label as deviant. .
In order to discuss how the Interactionist theory can be used to explain deviance, it is necessary to understand the historical development and approach of this theory. .
The Interactionists firstly believe that there are no behaviours that are intrinsically deviant. Secondly, Deviant actions are simply those which are defined as deviant within a certain culture or setting. Therefore Interactionists focus on social processes by which certain behaviours become known as deviant and the consequences for those who are labelled deviant. (Aggleton, 1987, chpt 4).
The Interactionist approach was at its height during the 1960's and 1970's, shedding a whole new, fresh perspective on the study of deviance. Here in Australia research on deviance was basically Functionalist and Positivist, Until 1970 when more critical approaches, like the Interactionist perspective began to appear. (Sargent, Nillan & Winter, 1997, pg 387) .
Interestingly the origins of the Interactionist approach go back as far as 18th century Philosophers, arguing with Positivist's about how to best explain social behaviour. In 1938, professor, Frank Tannenbaum first observed the actual reactions to certain behaviours, rather than on behaviours themselves.