A2 Sociology- explaining crime and deviance: Subcultural theories

21 mark essay on subcultural theories of crime and deviance: Assess the usefulness of subcultural theories in explaining 'subcultural crime and deviance'
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Using material from item A and elsewhere, assess the usefulness of subcultural
theories in explaining `subcultural crime and deviance' in society today. (21
A subculture is where a number of individuals choose to be a part of a separate group
that follow distinct norms and values different to those in mainstream society as
stated in item A. Subcultures may contain norms and values that would be considered
deviant in society and involve criminal activity.
Cohen is a subcultural theorist, he explains that subcultural crime and deviance today
results from the inability of lower classes to achieve mainstream success goals by
legitimate means. Reaction formation is where youths rebound from conventional
failure for example within education re-sitting exams. Status frustration is a key
element to Cohen's theory, when individuals are faced with failure they chose a
delinquent subculture, as they no longer feel a part of society or that they can achieve
so they don't bounce back, for example school dropouts. Research has shown that
status frustration is resolved through creating or joining a subculture because it offers
and alternative status hierarchy. It is this illegitimate opportunity structure where status
can be won via delinquency.
Cohen's theory offers an explanation to non-utilitarian deviance among the working
class such as vandalism, loitering and joyriding. However it can also be criticized as it
assumes that the working classes start off sharing the same middle class success
goals, only to reject these when they fail.
Cloward and Ohlin also explain working class crime in terms of goals and means
however they believe delinquents share their own deviant subcultural values different
to those of the middle class. They state 3 delinquent subcultures identified in response
to blocked opportunities in order to follow an illegitimate career structure. The criminal
subculture: where there is already the presence of adult crime in an area and they act
as role models in order for individuals to learn the tricks of the trade and climb the
professional criminal hierarchy. The conflict subculture is where an illegitimate
opportunity structure is absent and with little opportunity to succeed whether it is
legitimate or not, frustration and anger result and people turn to gang violence to
achieve success and respect. The retreatist subculture refers to the `double failures'
that do not succeed in criminal or conflict subcultures and these individuals are
sometimes based in the form of illegal drug use.
This theory can be criticized as not everyone who lives in areas of crime end up being
sucked into an illegitimate career structure. Postmodernists would argue that the
theory doesn't recognize individual perception of what is right or wrong, each
individual makes their own decision whether they take part in criminal activity or not. In
addition feminists would criticize the theory since the research focuses solely on
males; whereas in reality women have more blocked opportunities than men yet they
are ignored within this theory. Furthermore Cloward and Ohlin fail to explain
white-collar crime and crime carried out by middle or upper class individuals in

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Miller saw the deviant working class subcultural values as `focal concerns'. For
example, autonomy, trouble, toughness, excitement and fatalism. This theory is
supported by research carried out by Parker on Liverpool gangs. It is these `focal
concerns' that lead the path to deviant and criminal behaviour of individuals within this
subculture. This theory however ignores the fact that not all working class adopt `focal
concerns' and many middle class also adopt most of the traits described.…read more


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