Primary deviance is engaging in the initial act of deviance and secondary deviance is the stage in which one internalizes a deviant identity by integrating it into their self-concept. Edwin Lemert's secondary deviance refers to deviant behavior which flows from a stigmatized sense of self; the deviance is thought to be consistent with the character of the self.
A person's self can be stigmatized or tainted by public labeling. Secondary deviance is contrasted to primary deviance which may be behaviorally identical to secondary deviance but is incorporated into a 'normal sense of self. "Lemert suggests that deviance doesn't just happen, zap, with a single instance of behavior. He argues that there is first of all an act, perhaps mischievous, that deviates from the normatively expected behavior.
One may, as primary deviance, get drunk several times because one sees oneself as enjoying a party. However, if one notices that friends are hiding their liquor during visits to their house, secondary deviance gets triggered, one may come to see oneself as a drunk and then continue to get drunk because one is a drunk. The first acts are primary deviance and the second act is secondary deviance.
That first act probably brings a reaction from the social context, since it violates norms. The reaction often involves admonition not to deviate again, and perhaps punishment. Other acts, and reactions, continue to occur.
Lemert wisely suggests that some instances of deviance in this pattern are probably simply clumsy and unintended. Punishment and admonition for those acts may very well provoke a sense of being treated unjustly."
After a series of such interdependent interactions, eventually the person begins to employ his deviant behavior or a role based upon it as a means of defense, attack, or adjustment to the admonitions and prohibitions that behavior provokes, which Lemert refers to "secondary deviance..
The individual's self identity is therefore vulnerable to social judgements and appraisals, and once again we see the constant interplay between mind, self and society (cf. George Herbert Mead 1934). As the work of Erving Goffman famously showed, when a person is labelled with a particularly 'discrediting' social attribute (such as shyness, perhaps), this can serve as a permanent mark or stigma upon their character.
The Shell, the Stranger and the Competent Other -
Towards a Sociology of Shyness - Susie Scott, Cardiff University
Stigmatization Among Probationers -
Andreas Schneider, Wayne McKim