Subculturalist perspectives on crime

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  • Created by: Lilly
  • Created on: 08-05-14 14:22

Cohen 1955

  • American subculture, similar to Merton's Strain theory (functionalist)
  • JD caused by strain between cultural goals and institutional means of achieving them.
  • Delinquent behaviour develops among WC boys doing badly at school
  • Status frustration- recognised achieving educational success would be very difficult (denied academic status at school) = low self-esteem due to lack of qualifications.
  • Low paid/ unskilled jobs or unemployed- feel alienated and angry at low status- Anomie.
  • Respon by developing subcultures.


  • Paul Willis - youths in Cohen's study didn't share same definiton of status as MC boys- defined educational failure as a 'success'
  • Assumes that WC boys start off with MC goals.
  • Most WC boys conform dispite failing at school
  • Ignores female delinquency
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Cloward & Ohlin 1961

  • Developed Cohen's ideas - Like Merton explains WC crimes in terms of goals and means, but disagrees that they share the same values.
  • See WC delinquents as sharing own dominant values - 'blocked opportuniies' they cannot achieve legitimately - develop illegitimate career structure.
  • Type of crime depends on illigitimate opportunity structure.
  • 3 Subcultures arise:

1- criminal- experience criminal careers, appear in stable WC areas, status gained through gaining membership, involves financial gain- Venkatesh Chicago 'gang leader for a day' Participant Ob

2- Conflict- develops when is no criminal subculture- anti-social, violent and aggressive behaviour- Pitts inner city youths, dificult to resist groups.

3- Retreatist- fail to gain access to criminal/conflict, main focus on alcohol and drugs.

Evaluation: - not everyone commints crime/ sucked into illegitimate career structure, women have more blocked opportunities than men, fails to consider white collar crime.

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Walter Miller 1962

  • WC USA boys get into trouble because they have different set of values/ norms
  • Socialised into deviant subcultural values- FOCAL CONCERNS- gives meaning to their work.
  • Such focal concerns include: toughness, excitment, fatalism, autonomy and trouble
  • Trouble- accepting life will involve violence
  • Toughness 'real men' fight, drink and objectify women
  • Exitment- alweays on lookout for fun and 'having a laff'
  • Focal concerns make it inevitable that they will break law- Miller argues it is not done deliberately, their focal concerns lead to law breaking.


  • Ignores female subculture
  • Many WC also adopt focal concerns.
  • Not all lower classes adopt these focal concerns.

Supported by: Parker- found evidence of 'focal concerns' in his study of WC youth in Liverpool

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David Metza 1964

  • Interactionist criticuq of subcultures theory
  • Young people drift in and out of deviance as part o growing up
  • Young people are less skilled in suppressing subterranean values, they are deviant and try to justify their actions with techniques of neutralisation. Such as denial of responsibility and appeal to higher loyalties

Subterranean values- a set of deviant values that exist alongside socially apporoved values but are usuallu kept hidden/ under control. May emerge in certain social situations (parties, after drinking alcohol)

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