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Labelling as a social phenomenon


Communities of Support

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

The social labels of disability

Communities of Support:

People with the same characteristicts, needs or interests generally socialise with each other. They share experienses, skills and resources, and support each other.

Society also groups people together .......
... are grouped together because of a shared charasteristic that is not representative of the normal members of the community that they are a part of.
... where they are classified as a part of a group by a bureaucratic process where individuals apply for support such as welfare, pension etc
... where they are placed in temparory or permanent care because they can not look after themselves, are a danger to themselves, or are a danger to others in society
... where they are grouped together by government policy, organisations and services, and the media to promote their own agendas and raise their own profile in society
... to rase awareness of a particular condition or situation that has an impact on their lives within society.

These groups become communities within society, and identify themselves as a community that is different from other communities within society. Society attaches a label that describes the main characteristicts of that community. While a bikie community is different to a football community there may be some activities and behaviours of both communities that are simular.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy:

"A self-fulfilling prophecy is a prediction that directly or indirectly causes itself to become true, by the very terms of the prophecy itself, due to positive feedback between belief and behavior. A positive or negative prophecy, strongly held belief, or delusion—declared as truth when it is actually false—may sufficiently influence people so that their reactions ultimately fulfill the once-false prophecy." (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-fulfilling_prophecy).

"Any positive or negative expectation about circumstances, events, or people that may affect a person's behaviour toward them in a manner that causes those expectations to be fulfilled." (http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/self-fulfilling-prophecy.html).

If we look for good in ourselves and others we find good,
If we look for bad in ourselves and others we find bad.

People sometimes act out the expectations that the others put on them. If someone is seen as quiet and boring, that person will be excluded from social activities that provide some opportunities to develop social skills.

We unconsciously build mental pictures (true or false) of the world and the others in it based on our own experiences when we interact with others. The way we see of ourselves and others are based on those experiences and mostly determines how we treat ourselves and others. This can lead to a kind of circular thinking and behaviour. For example, if a teacher is falsely told that Fred is bright and Bob is a slow learner, Fred will be treated differently to the Bob. The other students may treat Fred/Bob the same way the teacher treats them. Fred will more likely feel respected, and therefore have confidence in himself (valued), and Bob may develop a lack of respect, value, and confidence in himself and others (devalued). If I have been treated badly or abused by others, I may lack the confidence to develop friendships and relationships. Alternatively I may strike out at others in anger and pain and treat others the way I have been treated.

Spastic was a legitimate medical term that described a condition that a person suffered from. Other terms that were used within the medical professional to describe a characteristic of a person or group were largely used within the medical profession as a shorthand way to describe the group. Over a period of time these expressions became accepted and widely used within society. Various accounts of the way various groups are labelled have often been misinterpreted or skewed to support a particular idea or agenda of the person writing the account (see Conceptions of idiocy in colonial Massachusetts, Journal of Social History, Summer, 2002 by Parnel Wickham). Other accounts focus on a particular theme or situation without putting the account into the proper context. We are all guilty in this respect and there has been a great deal of discussion about the relevance and accuracy of historical research and documentation. The expression "The eye sees what it wants to see" (unknown) is as true now as it was then (See also Social constructionism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia).

Some may say that by providing a valued social role for the person (to Enhance Social Images and Personal Competencies), we are actually changing the values of society, and by this process society is more accepting of the person, and the person will be included in the activities of the community that the person wishes to be a part of. I feel that while this may be true within a social context, it is an over generalisation in that members bring more to a community than their roles (Social Images and Personal Competencies).

The social labels of disability:

Social labels (or social stereotypes) are a way to convey to others our standing within society. If I proclaim myself as a hippy, for example, I am telling socity that I reject all things that society stands for. The way I dress, talk and treat others all characterise the social label that identifies a "hippy" from other groups in society. These social characterists also allow me to identify others in society that are "hippys". The expressions "Pommie", "Negro", "Spastic" etc were all legitimate lables that were used to described a characteristic of the person. Over a period of time, these lables took on a different meaning within society. Just as the expression "Gay" was used to describe an emotional state, that expression has a whole new meaning today. There are lots of other expressions that meant one thing origionally, and have taken on new meanings today. This evolution of language is propally due to new generations trying to find their own identity in society (speculation only).

While the phenomenon of social labelling is neither positive or negatitive, it can be manipulated by various social groups to promote a particular agenda or support a particular idea or paradigm. This happens all the time where different political groups try to sway social opinion to their way of thinking. The asyulm seekers from oversees are labled as "boat people". Some groups would attach a negative value and promote then as terrorists, job takers, bludgers and a burden on society. Others paint them as despreate people that have nowhere else to go and have suffered enough already. They tell us that these people are happy to be a part of our society and have a great deal to contribute.

Labelling is also a way to justify a particular social policy or practice. This is evedint in the way "Greenies" are portrayed as against commercial development and destroying peoples lives. Various governments (local, state and federal) have various programs in place to provide for the needs of the community, and where there is a protest about a particular development, their treatment is justified by showing that their actions will disadvantage us all. The label "Greenie" takes on a negative value.

A lack of understanding, skills and resources also contribute to labels taking on a negative value. People with high support needs, the aged, mentally ill and people with intellectual disabilities, even people with aids, cancer and dementia are viewed negatively because of a lack of understanding, skills and resources in society. Because society cannot support these groups, they are assigned a devalued status.

Just as labeling can be valued or devalued, the roles that are attributed to the label can be modified or changed to reinforce a particular characteristic, to support, justify or legitimise our treatment of a particular person or group. In all the above examples it can be seen that if society wants to portray (label) a patricular person or group positively, then the positive charasteristicts are reinforced, and as a result a positive role is assigned to the person or group. Alternatively, if society wants to devalue a person or group, the negative charasticts of the person or group are reinforced, which means that the role is devalued. This happens in all parts of society, both on a conscious and unconscious level.  People with high support needs that do not have the support structures to provide for their needs are often seen as a burden on society and as a result are assigned lables and roles that describe their circumstances. A person that has a mental illness, for example, may be accomodated in a hospital because that is the setting that is most able to accommodate the person's needs. Society unconsciously associates the picture of a hospital with all people with a mental illness and, as a result, that label and the associated roles are assigned to the person or group.

It is possible for any person to be devalued for any reason in any community. Some studies were done with school children a few years ago where the class was divided into groups (Blue eyes Brown eyes). The results clearly showed that people become disadvantaged quite easily. Just as Muslims were targeted a few years ago because they may be terrorists, all Muslims became disadvantaged. The same thing happened to the Jews and any number of other groups of people. The same thing can happen in any community. If I wear my P.J's to work (which has happened in America) I am seen as someone who is different. In some communities a particular characteristic can be an advantage. While I was traveling around the Northern Territory I certainly felt like a second class person in the shops. I spent some time living in an Aboriginal community and it took a while to become accepted as a part of their community.

SRV (which itself evolved from the concept of Normalisation) is probably the most influential social paradigm used to provide a better life for people with disability. The idea of Normalisation (where all members of society have the same right to a the same way of life as others within that society) has been around for a long time. It has only been in the last 10 to 20 years that we have had the incentives, skills and resources to provide for a more humanistic approach to meeting needs of disadvantaged people in society. SRV is about social roles. Society tends to group people into different classifications or groups according to a particular characteristic of a person that stands out. Regardless of the persons individual differences. society generally assigns a particular role to all people that share that characteristic. This role describes the persons behaviours, and how we should associate with the person. Roles are also a way to visualise the person and what we may expect from the person. Some social roles are positive. Hero, friend, supporter, defender of the faith, aussie battler, statesman etc all create a positive image of the person. Accordingly they are treated with respect and considerstion as valued members of society. Whether they are good people or not, is not as important as their social role. Other social roles are negative. Druggie, criminal, nigger, deviant, sick, dole bludger, alcoholic etc all create a negative picture or impression of the person, and as a result, the person will be negitavely valued, and treated differently to others, regardless of any other positive characteristicts the person may have. SRV shows us that disadvantaged people were devalued by society, and that by changing the way they are seen (their role), we change our behaviours and expectations, and add value to their lives by giving them the opportunity to participate in valued relationships and activities. Person Centered Planning, the Least Restrictive Principle and Transitional planning have all evolved from the principles of SRV. Each model is designed to allow (or facilitate) positive behaviours and attitudes within society, where the person to be able to participate, as much as possible, within each community that most suits the person's needs. These models of care could be thought of as the vechicle, SRV is the engine that drives each model of care, and government policy and practice serves as the highways and byways.

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When providing the most appropriate care for people with high support needs ...
1) The community is not where the person is living, but where the person participates, shares experiences and has valued relationships with others.
2) People with high support needs (severe disability, aged etc.) will always need support structures as a part of their lives.
3) The amount of participation in a community (living, education, employment or recreation) is directly related to the skills and resources of the person, and, the skills and resources of the community that the person wishes to participate in.
4) Institutions are going to be around in one form or another whether we like it or not, It is the way that they are used that is the problem.
5) The institutions of a society towards a particular group determine the way the group participates in society.
6) The institutions of a particular government department, organisation, profession or service define the way the person is supported within that society.
7) Facilities that support people with high support needs do not need to be the nursing homes or prisons in the sense that they are today, but can become warm inviting community places that offer a range of services to the community, as well as be a part of the wider community within that society.
8) People with high support needs are a minority group in our society, and will have the same problems as other minority groups in being a part of society.

Peter Anderson