Sociologists look to society for an explanation of crime and deviance rather than the biological or psychological make-up of the individual.
According to Durkheim, a certain amount of crime is not only ‘normal’ but also an ‘integral part of all healthy societies’. Society’s values and norms must not be too strong- this would prevent the innovation and change necessary for a healthy society. Crime can be seen as a by-product of this necessity.
Some crime can be functional for society- for example, they may indicate that something is wrong with the way society is organised.
Merton’s strain theory argue there is a ‘strain to anomie’ when the normative means for attaining cultural goals are blocked. This strain is most strongly felt by those at the bottom of the class structure. Some ‘innovate’ and turn to crime to attain monetary success.
Cohen’s subcultural theory argues that many young working-class males experience status frustration. Some respond by developing a delinquent subculture in terms of which they can gain status and respect.
Cloward and Ohlin
Cloward and Ohlin provide an explanation for different types of working-class delinquent. They argue that different social environment provide different opportunities for crime and deviance. This encourage the development of different delinquent subcultures.
David Matza argues that many sociological theories picture delinquents as more distinctive than they really are. He sees delinquents responding to subterranean values which are found throughout society. They use techniques of neutralisation which indicates that they largely share the values of wider society. And they drift in and out of delinquency rather than being committed to a delinquent subculture.