Cohen criticism of Merton

Subcultural strain theorist who agrees with Merton that crime is a working class phenomenon.He also agrees that it is a result of the working class being incapable of achieving cultural goals through legitimate means.

But Unlike Merton,Cohen acknowledges that groups (youths) respond to the stain to anomie not just individuals.Cohen also highlights that Merton fails to explain non-utilitarian crime committed by youths.

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Cohen's Study

Cohen studied working class boys.He found that they faced anomie in education system as it was dominated by the middle class system,and they could not achieve middle class status as they were the bottom of the status hierachy and were culturally deprived,

Cohen found wc boys can't achieve cultural goals and this caused 'status frustration'.It also lead them to invert mainstream mcc's values to gain status in their own alternative hierachy,

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Evaluation of Cohen's Study

Cohen's study explains non-utilitarian crime.

Yet the study can be criticised like Merton's study as both assume wc boys initially want mainstream success goals.They don't consider the fact that some wcboys may not have wanted societies success goals in the first place.

The sample is gender biased as it is solely male.

The study does not explain why different youth subcultures focus on differemt types of deviance.

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Cloward and Ohlin

Cloward/Ohlin/Cohen/Merton-Believe  working class youths cannot achieve societies success goals via instituional means and as a result deviant subcultures respond to this.

But unlike Cohen,Cloward and Ohlin explain why different youth subcultures commit to different types of crimes.

Cloward and Ohlin claim that legal oppurtunity structures and illegitimate oppurtuit stuructures will determine whether or not a youth commits a crime.Different neighbourhoods have different illegitimate oppurtunity structures.

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Evaluation of Cloward and Ohlin's Study

Unlike Cohen,Cloward and Ohlin explain why working class youth subcultures commit different types of crime.

But they do not consider subcultures who do not fit neatly into their categories.For example,Sociologist South notes that the some youths in America combine a mixture of crimes especially when participating in the drug trade.

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Different types of Youth Subcultures

1)Criminal subculture: Long standing/stable criminal organisations/ hierarchy of criminal adults/ role models- skills. Opportunity to climb the criminal ladder.

   Utilitarian crime

2) Conflict subculture: High population turnover. High levels of social disorganisation. Prevents stable criminal organisation.


3) Retreatist subculture: any neighbourhood. Fail both LOS and IOS. ‘Double failures’.

Drug abuse

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A03 of subcultural strain theories: Cohen/Cloward

Most subcultural theories fall under the umbrella of REACTIVE/INDEPDENT

REACTIVE: subcultures are formed as a reaction to external social forces outside the subculture/ failure to achieve societies success goals. Strain theories are seen as reactive theories.

INDEPENDENT: Miller- independent from the influence of external social forces. Not formed as a reaction to external social forces. Values of WC subcultures arise as an attempt to achieve their own goals (focal concerns- toughness, smartness and excitement)not societies goals.

Use independent theory to criticise strain theories.

Use reactive/independent agianst to criticise each other.

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