Subcultural and Structural Theories of Crime and Deviance

Description and Evaluation of Structural/Subcultural Theories

  • Created by: Maria
  • Created on: 15-05-10 11:06


Cohen (1955) developed Merton's Strain Theory. He stated that rather than failing to achieve the goals of mainstream society, crime in lower working class boys was due to their realisation that the dead end jobs, cultural deprivation and educational failure would result in them never having a chance of achieving mainstream goals.This led to:

  • Status frustration
  • Formation of a delinquent subculture which reversed the mainstream norms and values of society
  • Valuing non-utilitarian crimes, such as joyriding, vandalism, truancy and petty violence
  • The reversal of mainstream culture allowed the subculture to achieve success
1 of 6

Evaluation of Cohen

  • Box (1981) states that delinquency in lower working class boys is due to resentment of treatment by middle class teachers and authority figures, not status frustration
  • White collar crimes cannot be accounted for
  • Matza (1964) believes that for mainstream values to be reversed, they must first be partially accepted
  • Heidensohn argues that this theory is subject to 'malestreaming'. Only the crimes of boys are studied
2 of 6

Cloward and Ohlin

Cloward and Ohlin also developed Strain Theory. They agreed that there was a legitimate opportunity structure (or 'American Dream'), but Merton failed to consider the illegitimate opportunity structure.

  • Legitimate opportunity structures include mainstream jobs
  • Illegitimate opportunity structures include criminal activities
  • Crime in lower working class boys due to less access to the legitimate opportunity structure, and more access to the illegitimate opportunity structure
  • There are three main subcultures which are common in illegitimate opportunity structures:
    - Criminal subcultures; which occur in areas of established crime and expose young children to criminal role models
    - Conflict subcultures; which occur when there is little access to any opportunity structure. Gang formation is common
    - Retreatist subcultures; where success in either opportunity structure fails. Drug use is common
3 of 6

Evaluation of Cloward and Ohlin

  • Taylor, Walton and Young (1973) argue that not everyone is committed to the goals of either legitimate or illegitimate opportunity structures
  • Hopkins-Burke (2001) states that there are three problems with Cloward and Ohlin:
    - The theory is based on statistics from the 1920s and 1930s
    - It is assumed that all working class cultures are the same (homogeneity)
    - It can't deal with middle class crimes and middle class drug use
  • However, South (1997) sees subcultural theories such as Cloward and Ohlin's as becoming more relevant to society as more organised crime develops
  • Heidensohn argues that this theory is subject to 'malestreaming'. Only the crimes of boys are studied
4 of 6


Miller belived that the lower working class of America had their own separate norms and values which predisposed them to crime. These norms and values have three main 'focal concerns':

  • Smartness; the ability to outsmart another, leading to petty theft and other such crimes
  • Toughness; courage in the face of physical threat, leading to physical assault
  • Excitement; the search for thrills, such as consuming alcohol or gambling

Delinquency is simply acting out the focal concerns of the lower working class. The monotony of other areas of life in this culture is accounted for in acting out the focal concerns.

5 of 6

Evaluation of Miller

  • Bordua states that Miller viewed the lower working class as a separate culture from the rest of society. He belives that the lower class subculture still interacts with the rest of society and does not exist independently
  • Gill conducted a study in Liverpool and found that many crimes committed in the area reflected the focal concerns. Stealing from unoccupied houses was acceptable, as was abusing police officers
  • Braithwait argued that crimes which harmed others were viewed as unacceptable in any society, regardless of any focal concerns
  • Heidensohn argues that this theory is subject to 'malestreaming'. Only the crimes of boys are studied
6 of 6




This was exactly what I was looking for. Thank you for uploading. Also, it was a nice touch to highlight, which would be useful for revision cards (I'm using it as an essay plan).

Similar Sociology resources:

See all Sociology resources »See all Crime and deviance resources »