Crime and deviance: Topic 5

Age and crime- subcultural explanations

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  • Created on: 08-05-15 11:05


  • 50% of crimes are commited by young people
  • Stats show the older you get the less likely you atre to commit a crime.
  • Most burglary,robbery,violence against a person, shoplifting and criminal damage are commited by young people aged 17-24
  • Peak age for male offenders is 18 for men 15 for women
  • Sociologists particularaly interested in the group of crimes dupped under "juvenile delinquency" which are typically commited out of boredom, serach for exitment, sometimes malice and generally don't involve financial reward. They include tagging,joy riding, hulanaism, vandalism, territorial gang violence, drug taking and anti social behaviour such as harrassing members of the community. Generally commited by subcultures or gangs.
  • Much of sociological work relating to young people and offending is known as "subcultural theory" and includes reacerch into youth groups who have their own set of norms and values. Worth noting thst most of these groups tend to be male and wc.
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functionalist subcultural theory

Albert Cohen- the delinquent subculture

Cohen writing in the mid 1950's draws upon Merton's strain theory and the ethnographic ideas of the chicago school of sociology. He was particularaly interested in the fact that much of offending behaviour was not neccacaraly economically motivated but simply done for the thrill of the act. (This is as true today as it was in the 1950's for vandalism typically acounts for around 18% of crime recorded by the CSEW)

Acording to Cohen "lower class boys" strove to emulate middle class values and aspirations but lacked the means to attain success leading to status frustraition- a sense of personal faliure or inadequacy resulting in the rejection of those values and patterns of "acceptable behaviour" which they couldn't be successful within. He sugected that school was key for the playing out of this drama. Lower class children are more likely to fail and concequently feel humiliated. In an attempt to gain status they invert middle class values by behaving badly and engaging in a variety of anti social behaviour.

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Criticisms of Cohen

  • The young "delinquently" must be brilliant sociologists to understand middle class values and then invert them.
  • Brake (marxist)_ argues that working class youth were more criminal because they were more likely to be in a position to show resistence to capitalism than older people.
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Cloward and Ohlin illigitimate opportunity structu

Argued Merton had failed to apreciate that there was a paralel opportunity structure to the legal one and called it the iligitimate oportunity structure. By this they meant that for some subcultures in society a reglar illegal carear was available with recognised illegail means of obtaining socities goals.

  • Acording to Cloward and Ohlin the illegal oportunity structure had three possible adaptations or subcultures:
  • Criminal- where theres a thriving local criminal subculture with successful role models where young people can "work their way up the ladder" in the criminal hierachy.
  • Conflict- where there is no local criminal subculture to provide a carear oportunity, groups brought up in this enviroment are likely to turn to violence usually against other similar groups. They give the example of violent "gang warfare"
  • 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 faliure" and so retreats into drugs.
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Evaluation fo Cloward and Ohlin

  • This explanation is useful as Hobbs recent work shows for some people there really is a criminal opportunity structure, but its difficult to accept that such a neat distinction into three clear categories occurs in real life.
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Evaluation of Functionalist subcultureal theory ge

  • Sub culutral apraoches assumes theres a common value system to deviate from, marxists don't agree they see these values as imposed by the rulling class
  • Sub culturl theories don't explain why people decide either to or not to participate in deviant subcultures
  • Some sub cultural theories are criticised for understating the concepts of class, race and gender.
  • Sub cultural aproaches over focus on working class males and fail to highlight deviant subcultures in other section of society.

Functionalist subcultural theory influenced venkateshe's work which was in line with Merton and cloward and Ohlin emphasising the desire t be included leading to the actions which ensures that they are excluded from society.

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Marxist subcultural theory- Subcultures as rebelli

Ethnic subcultures

Acording to Scratton and Gordon- policin, media coverage and political debates all center around the issue of race being a "problem". Ethnic minoritories have been on the receiving end of discrimnation since the first migrants arived leaving them in a significantly worse socioeconomic position that the "white" magoirty.

In responce to this cultures of ressitence have emerged in which crime is a form of "orgnised resistence" which has its origins in the anti collonial struggles. When young members of the ethnic minoritories commit crimes  they are doing so as a political act, rather than a s a criminal act. 


  • Lea and Young- very scathing pointing out that most crime is intra racial nd therefor cannot reflect a political struggle against the white majority. Secondly they acuse writers such as Scratton of "romantasising crime and criminals" and in so ignore the very real harm that crime does to its victims.
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Marxist subcultural theory- subcultures as rebelio

Some marxists have focused on working class deviant youth subcultures such as the teddy boys of the 50's mods and rockers of the 60'd punks of the late 70'd and raves of the 80's and 90's and suggected that these can be seen as a form of ideological resistence to the dominant adult value system shapped by mc and capitalist values.

CCCS- argued that youth subcultural styles should be read as a challenge to the class inequality which characterises capitalist society.

Cohen- studied the skinn heads of the 70's and proposed that their style was a symbolic heaction to the deline i  wc communities. For example their dress exagerated wc masculinity and agression whilst their anti immigrant stance was a reaction to the decline of their exclusively hite wc neibourhoods.

Hedbridge- looked at the meanings behind the style of punks in the late 70's and argued punks set out to deliberatly shock the establishment and society by adopting a style which reused ordnary objects like bin liners and safety pins as well as sexual ******* gear to symbollicslly resist the dominant cultural value sof british society of the time.

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Hedbridge continued

However hedbridge notes that society quickly adapts to such challenges to its cultural dominance noting that punks and other youth subcultures are fairly short lived baecause of incoporation- capitalsim quickly commercializes aspects of youht cultural style ie puts them on sale and strips them of their ideological significance so they become just another consumer item.

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Evaluation of Marxist Subcultural theory

  • under sstimate the extent some changes in youth culture are manafactured by capitalism and shaped by consumerism
  • little empirical evidence to support their conclusions
  • Recent postmodern aproaches reject their explanations for behaviour Katsz- crime is seductive young males are drawn into it not becuse of any processes of rejection but because its thrilling in a similar manner.
  • Lyng- argues that young males like taking risks and engaging in edgework by which he means going right to hte edge of aceptable behaviour and flirting with danger.
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Left realism and subcultural theory

  • Young- work draws upon the marxist subcultural aproach and Merton's strain theory. Argues subcultures develop amongst groups that experience relative deprivation and marginalisation. Spesific sets of values, forms of dress and models of behaviour develop which reflect the problems that their members face. However whereas marxist subcultural writers seek to explain the styles of dress and forms of language and behaviour as forms of ' resistence' to capitalism lea and Young don't see a direct and 'decodable link'. For them a crucial ellement of subcultures is that they are still rooted in the vlaues of wider society. Subcultures develop precicely because their members subscribe to the dominant values of society but are blocked of (through marginalisation) from success.

The outcome of subculture, marginalisation and relative deprevation is street crime and burglary commited largely by young males.

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Evaluation of Subcultural theory

Matza- argues that theres no distinct subcultural values rather all groups in society share the same set of subteranian values and that the only difference between the law abiding citizen and and persistent offender is how often and in what circimstances the subteranian values emerge and are then justified through tecnhiques of neautrialisation. 

Tecnhiques of neautrialisation

  • Denial of responsibility-the offender denies its their fault
  • Denial of victim- the offender claims that in this particular case the victim was in the wrong
  • Denial of injury- where the victim wans't really hurt or harmed by the crime
  • Condemnation of condemmers- where the offender feels a sense of unfairness of being picked on fr something others have done and haven't been punished for
  • Appeal to higher loyalties- where the rule or law had to be ignored because more important issues were at stake

His criticism of subcultural theories is veiwed as radical by arguing that all of us share deviant 'subteranian values' and its not ture that there are distincive groups with their own values differnet rom the rest of us.

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Gender and subcultural theory

  • overwhelmingly male subcultural theory. The assumptions underlying the vast bulk of the writings we have looked at within this tradition have been discussing masculine behaviour however Collionson- argues in order to explain male offending behaviour its important to explain the nature of being male in our society and what links masculinity itself has to crime.
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