1 F Young People And Crime

Notes on young people and crime for A2 Sociology

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  • Created on: 25-03-08 16:29
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SubCultural Theories of Crime and Deviance
Emma Rudd
Sociology - 1F - Young People and Crime
The first three theories are functionalist in their approach.
Cohen - the delinquent subculture
Cohen, drew upon both Merton's ideas of strain and also on the ethnographic ideas of
the Chicago school of sociology. Cohen was particularly interested in the fact that much
offending behaviour was not economically motivated, but simply done for the thrill of
the act. (Vandalism typically accounts for about 18% of current crime recorded by the
British Crime Survey).
According to Cohen, 'lower-class' boys strove to emulate middle class values and
aspirations, but lacked the means to attain success. This led to status frustration - that
is a sense of personal failure and inadequacy. The result was that they rejected those
very values and patterns of 'acceptable' behaviour, which they could not be successful
within. He suggests that school is the key area for the playing out of this drama. Lower
class children are much more likely to fail and consequently feel humiliated. In an
attempt to gain status they 'invert' traditional middle class values - behaving badly and
engaging in a variety of anti-social behaviour.
Criticisms of A. Cohen
There is no discussion of females. His research is solely about males.
The young 'delinquents' must be brilliant sociologists to workout what are middle
class values and then invert them!
Cohen fails to prove that school really is the key place where success and failure
are demonstrated.
Brake argued from a Marxists perspective. He said that working class youth
were more criminal because they were more likely to be in a position to show
resistance to capitalism than older people.
Illegitimate opportunity structure
The idea of strain between goals and means had a significant influence on Cloward and
Ohlin (1960), who now owe many of their ideas to Merton.
They argued that Merton had failed to appreciate that there was a parallel opportunity
structure to the legal one called the illegitimate opportunity structure. By this they
meant that for some subcultures in society, a regular illegal career was available, with
recognised illegal means of obtaining society's goals. A good contemporary example of
this is given in Dick Hobbs' book Bad Business (1998). Hobbs interviews successful
professional criminals and demonstrates how it is possible to have a 'career' in crime,
given the right connections and 'qualities'.
According to Cloward and Ohlin, the illegal opportunity structure had three possible
adaptations or subcultures.
1. Criminal
This is where there is a thriving local criminal subculture, with successful role
models. Young offenders can 'work their way up the ladder' in the criminal
2. Conflict
Here there is no local criminal subculture to provide a career opportunity. Groups

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SubCultural Theories of Crime and Deviance
Emma Rudd
brought up in this sort of environment are likely to turn to violence usually
against other similar groups.
3. Retreatist
This tends to be a more individual response and occurs where the individual has no
opportunity or ability to engage in either of the other two subcultures. He is a
'double failure'. The result is a retreat into alcohol or drugs.…read more

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SubCultural Theories of Crime and Deviance
Emma Rudd
So, in the UK, evidence of distinctive subcultures has been fairly difficult to
Subterranean values ­ An interpretivist approach.
One consistent criticism of sub-cultural theories was there was little evidence to
demonstrate a distinct set of anti-social values. Even if there were subcultures,
were they a response to middle class values or a distinctive set of working class
values. Matza (1964) put these criticisms together to make a strong attack upon
sub-cultural theory.…read more

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SubCultural Theories of Crime and Deviance
Emma Rudd
Similarly, Philip Bourgois' study of El Barrio (1995) looks at the lives of drug dealers
and criminals in this deprived area of New York and finds that they too believe in the
American Dream of financial success. Their 'subculture' is really little different
from mainstream values; the difference is simply that they deal drugs in order to get
the money to pursue an all-American lifestyle.…read more


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