C&D - Subcultural explanations of crime and deviance

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  • Why young working class people commit crime, ie. juvenile delinquency.
  • Malicious youth crime.
  • Subcultural theory generally assumes that youth crime is not motivated by material or financial gain in the same way as crimes committed by older people.
  • 'Subculture' - a culture that exists alongside the main or dominant culture of society.

Albert Cohen:

  • Central goal for many members of society is the pursuit of status - value and respect them.
  • Juvenile delinquency is caused by three inter related factors:
  • (1) Inadeqaute socialisation by parents - working class boys are not socialised by their parents into the sorts of values and norms that are required for academic success at school.
  • (2) Poor experience of schooling - working class boys under achieve and are allocated to bottom sets or streams in which they can clearly see that school does not value them.
  • (3) Status frustration - working class boys internalising a strong sense of low self esteem.
  • They feel very alienated and frustrated and angry at the way that schools, teachers and society treat them.

The subcultural response to status frustration:

  • React to this by developing gangs or subcultures which:
  • (1) Reverse the norms and values of the dominant culture, eg. they might deliberatley break school rules.
  • (2) Celebrate aspects of working class culture by exaggerating behaviour such as toughness and masculinity.
  • The reward for this is peer group status and respect.
  • Gangs award status and respect to their members on the basis of anti-social, violent and anti-authoritarian behaviour ie. juvenile delinquent behaviour.
  • This compensated for the failure of school and society to offer them alternative forms of legitimate status and respect.
  • Cohen blames both working class culture and schools/society for juvenile delinquency.
  • Society should take some of the blame too because it denies these youth any form of status, respect or sense of value.

Evaluation of Cohen:

  • Little evidence that working class youth actually want the type of status that is achieved through education or jobs.
  • Most working class boys actually conform at school.
  • Cohen ignores working class girls.
  • Cohen seems to accept without question the criminal profile painted by the official criminal statistics that working class youth are the main social problem.

Walter Miller's version of subcultural theory:

  • Rooted in the values and norms of working class subculture.
  • This culture has deviant characteristics which…


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