Functionalist, Strain and Subcultural Theories

Mindmap of all the subcultural theories.

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  • Functionalist, Strain and Subcultural Theories
    • Durkheim's Functionalist Theory
      • Functionalists see society a sharing a common culture which creates social solidarity.
        • In order to achieve this solidarity, two key mechanisms are needed.
          • Socialisation- this ensures that everyone is taught the common culture and knows how to act in society.
          • Social Order- This is mechanisms that provide rewards for good behaviour (promotions, bonuses) and punishments for bad behaviour (prison, fines)
        • This common culture includes a shared set of norms and values, beliefs and goals.
      • Crime is inevitable in all societies.
        • Because not everyone is socialised adequately and are therefore prone to deviate.
        • In modern societies, there are a range of lifestyles which means many people have different norms, which can be seen as deviant to others.
          • In modern societies, there is a tendency towards anomie= the rules are becoming less clear.
            • This means the shared culture is weakened= more crime and deviance.
      • Sees crime as having positive functions.
        • Creates social solidarity- it creates a reaction from society and brings them together.
        • Causes social change and adaptation. Deviant behaviour can change society. Eg. Gay people- was once illegal to be gay, now not after people were deviant.
        • Others have developed this idea- Kingsley Davis believes crime creates a safety valve for men's sexual frustrations without threatening their family. Cohen believes that it displays that an aspect of society is not working properly.
      • Too much crime will tear bonds of society apart
        • To little crime means society is controlling its members too much.
    • Merton's Strain Theory
      • Strain theories believe that individuals engage in deviant behaviour when they are unable to achieve socially approved goals through legitimate means.
      • Merton developed Durkheim's theory of anomie to explain deviance.
        • His theory combines two elements.
          • Structural factors- societies unequal opportunity structure.
          • Cultural factors- the strong emphasis on success goals and the weak emphasis on the legitimate means to achieve them.
        • He sees deviance as a strain between the goals the common culture wants individuals to achieve and the institutional structure of society that allows them to achieve the goals through legitimate means.
          • This means people want to achieve the goals, but cannot do so because of laws etc, so deviance occurs.
        • He uses the example the 'American Dream' to explain his theory.
          • This involves individuals wanting wealth and high status.
          • It expects people to achieve this goal through doing well in education and getting a good career.
          • However, some people cannot achieve this because they are denied opportunities eg. poverty, poor education. SO they turn to deviance to achieve this.
            • This is known as the strain to anomie. Where individuals are under pressure to reach the goals but cannot do so through legitimate means so turn to deviance to reach it.
      • Merton uses his strain theory to explain patterns of deviance. The different types depend on individuals reactions to the strain.
        • Conformity- this is where individuals accept mainstream goals and strive to get there through legitimate means.
        • Innovation- this is where individuals accept the mainstream goal but find new means to get there, such as theft or fraud.
        • Ritualism- this is where individuals give up on achieving mainstream goals but have internalised he legitimate means so stay in dead end jobs.
        • Retreatism- this is where individuals reject the goals and legitimate means and become drop outs.
        • Rebellion- this is where individuals reject the existing goals and means but create their own goals to form a rebellion.
    • Cohen- Status Frustration
      • Agrees with Merton that deviance is a lower class phenomenon.
        • Believes that is stems from the inability for those in the lower classes to achieve mainstream goals. Eg. Educational achievement.
      • Disagrees with Merton that deviance is an individual response, as it is mainly done in groups.
        • Also disagrees with Merton- Merton focuses on utilitarian crime (theft, fraud). He ignores non utilitarian crimes such as vandalism and assault, which have no economic motive.
      • Looks at deviance amongst working class boys- he believes that in the education system, they face anomie because it is middle class dominated.
        • They do not have the skills to achieve and end up at the bottom of the hierarchal structure.
          • Because they cannot achieve through legitimate means, they suffer from status frustration.
            • They then reject middle class views as they struggle to adapt to their new low status, and form a delinquent subculture with others in the same situation.
              • An Alternative Status Hierarchy is then created. This is where the subculture rejects all middle class values, for example, in education, the middle class will gain status from attending lessons whereas the delinquents will gain status from truanting.
                • Cohen believes the alternative status hierarchy gives the boys a chance to achieve (through their delinquent acts)
    • Cloward and Ohlin- Three Subcultures
      • Agree with Merton that working class youths are denied opportunities to money success through legitimate means and deviance is their response to this .
        • However they know that not everyone turns to 'innovation'. Different subcultures react in different ways.
          • They believe this is due to their opportunities to illegitimate means as well as their lack of opportunities to legitimate means.
            • They look at how different neighbourhoods provide different illegitimate opportunities. Three types of deviant subcultures result.
              • Criminal Subcultures- this is where youths are provided with criminal careers in utilitarian crime. They stem from neighbourhoods that have a high level of adult crime, therefore providing youths with criminal role models.
              • Conflict Subcultures- these occur in areas that have a high level of population turnover. This creates a criminal network. The only illegitimate opportunities are within loosely organised gangs.
              • Retreatist Subcultures- this can occur in any neighbourhood. It involves individuals who do not become a criminal and who fail at legitimate means too. They turn to illegal drug use.
  • Cohen believes the alternative status hierarchy gives the boys a chance to achieve (through their delinquent acts)



This is a brilliant resource which perfectly summarises the functionalist strain and subcultural theories. This is great condensed source of valid information which can easily be understood and further developped to answer exam questions.


This was an excellent help! Great resource. Only thing that would have made it better would be evaluations of the theories. Other than that, it is great, essential for condensed revision. 

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