Labelling or labeling is describing someone or something in a word or short phrase. For example, describing someone who has broken a law as a criminal. Labelling theory is a theory in sociology which ascribes labelling of people to control and identification of deviant behaviour. It has been argued that labelling is necessary for communication. However, the use of the term is often intended to highlight the fact that the label is a description applied from the outside, rather than something intrinsic to the labelled thing. This can be done for several reasons:
- To provoke a discussion about what the best description is
- To reject a particular label
- To reject the whole idea that the labelled thing can be described in a short phrase.
This last usage can be seen as an accusation that such a short description is overly-reductive.
Giving something a label can be seen as positive, but the term label is not usually used in this case. For example, giving a name to a common identity is seen as essential in identity politics.
The labelling of people can be related to a reference group. For example, the labels black and white are related to black people and white people; the labels young and old are related to young people and old people.
The labelling of works of art can be related to genre. For example, a piece of music may be described as progressive rock or indie or ragga jungle drum and bass. However, there are other labels that can be applied to a work, such as derivative, low or high. The use of the word labelling is less common in the context of works of art than people. However, it also often represents the rejection of a label. For example, an artist may feel that the labeller is attempting to restrict the scope of the artist's work to that which is covered by the label.
Labelling system on the World Wide Web
When creating labels, the goal is to communicate efficiently, and without taking up too much space. Labels should be written in a language that’s familiar to the users, and in a way that they will detect new and recognize similar concepts.
Contextual links are hyperlinks to chunks of information on other pages or another location on the same page, and need to draw meaning from their surrounding text.
Headings: Labels are often used as headings to present subsequent information and create a hierarchy within contents. A hierarchical relationship between headings is established visually through a consistent use of numbering, font size, colour and styles, white spaces, indentation, or a combination of these items.
Navigation system choices: There is no standard for a navigation system but common categories might be:
- Main, Main Page, Home
- Search, Find, Browse, Search/Browse
- Site Map, Contents, Table of contents, Index
- Contact, Contact Us
- Help, FAQ,
- News, News and events, News and announcements, Announcements
- About, About us, About, Who we are.
Index terms are often referred to as keywords, tags, descriptive metadata, taxonomies, controlled vocabularies and thesauri. Such labelling systems can describe any type of content such as sites, subsites, pages, or content chunks.
Icons can serve as a substitute for text to represent information. Iconic labels are used as navigation systems, especially in mobile apps, where screen space is constrained.
Labelling in argumentation
In context of argumentation and debate, labelling a debator or position is often (whether consciously or unconsciously) used as a "red herring" to divert or dismiss the argument, instead of valid argumentation. Often in the form of ad hominem association fallacy aiming at accrediting or discrediting the argument or the debator by associating them with an emotionally charged label. Typically negatively; labelling it as ridiculous or despicable, though it can also go the other way round; attempting to gain sympathy for example by promoting the debator or position as authoritative, or by appealing to pity. - Using labelling in argumentation this way constitute an informal fallacy. - For example:
The guy believed that it can be done with the right technology.
- The guy is a perverted pansy. (ie. Therefor it can never be done.)
The witness claim to have seen something that indicates foul play.
- It is paranoid to assume foul play. (ie. Therefor whatever the witness might have seen is irrelevant.)
Markings indicate that it was done with a crowbar. - And secondly, Mr X is a suspect..
- It is ridiculous to suspect mr X. (ie. Therefor it is also ridiculous to assume it was done with a crowbar.)
It has been suggested that something it said in the book could be wrong.
- It is a very noble book. (ie. Therefor the suggestion is wrong.)
- Association fallacy
- Attributional bias
- Labelling theory
- Name calling
- Social stigma