Subcultural Theories of Crime & Deviance

Subcultural theories of Crime & Deviance covering:

  • Cohen (1955)
  • Cloward & Ohlin (1961)
  • Miller (1962)
  • Matza (1964)
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A2 Sociology 8th March 2011
Unit 4 ­ Crime & Deviance
Subcultural theories
Subcultural theories of deviance explain it in terms of the subculture of a particular
social group. Certain groups develop norms and values which are different from those
held by other members of society.
Albert Cohen (1955) ­ Theorist 1
Cohen's work modified Merton's position and combined both structural and
subcultural theories of deviance
Cohen criticises two aspects of Merton's theory of workingclass deviance
According to Cohen
o Deviance is a collective rather than an individual response
o Merton ignores nonutilitarian crimes. These are crimes that have no
financial reward, such as vandalism and joyriding
Lower workingclass boys want success but cannot achieve their goals because
of cultural deprivation leads to educational failure and deadend jobs
They suffer from status frustration and turn to delinquency to gain status within
their peer group
An alternative set of norms and values is adopted ­ a delinquent subculture ­
which reverses mainstream culture by valuing activities such as stealing,
vandalism and truancy
This solves the problem of status frustration, as they gain high status from other
members of the subculture for their delinquent behaviour.
Evaluation of Cohen
Box (1981)
Box argues that Cohen's theory only applies to a minority of delinquents most
delinquents never accepted mainstream success goals in the first place
Matza (1964)
Conducted research which suggested that most delinquents are not committed
to a delinquent subculture, nor are they totally opposed to society's values
Rather they drift in and out of delinquency, so the idea of highly integrated and
distinctive subcultures is a myth
Cloward & Ohlin ­ Theorist 2
Cloward & Ohlin (1961) accept Merton's explanation of deviance in terms of the
legitimate opportunity structure, but they argue that he failed to consider the
illegitimate opportunity structure
Just as the opportunity to succeed by legitimate means varies, so does the
opportunity to succeed by illegitimate means
Chris Cartwright

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A2 Sociology 8th March 2011
Unit 4 ­ Crime & Deviance
For example, in one area there may be a thriving criminal subculture, while in
another area this subculture may not exist.
Thus, in the first area, the adolescent has more opportunity to become a
successful criminal.
Like Merton, Cloward & Ohlin believe that there is greater pressure on the
working classes to deviate because they have less opportunity to succeed by
legitimate means.…read more

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A2 Sociology 8th March 2011
Unit 4 ­ Crime & Deviance
Smartness ­ a person should both look good and also be witty with a
`sharp repartee'
o Trouble ­ `I don't go looking for trouble, but ...'
o Excitement ­ It is important to search out thrills
o Toughness ­ Being physically stronger than others is good.…read more


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