Assess the Usefulness of Subcultural Theories in Understanding Crime

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Assess the Usefulness of Subcultural Theories in Understanding Crime

By | November 2008
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In assessing the usefulness of subcultural theories it is first important to understand what subcultural theories are. They are an explanation of deviance in terms of the subculture of a social group arguing that certain groups develop norms and values which are to some extent different from those held by other members of society. There are a number of sociological theories, which strive to understand a cause for crime and deviance. Subcultural theorists posit the idea that there is nothing “wrong” with criminals and those who commit deviant acts. Instead, they advocate an alternative set of values or a “subculture”.

Merton suggests that people are socialised into wanting particular things, such as nice houses or cars, etc. However, the majority of people lack the means to achieve these goals. According to Merton, it is this that causes a strain in the structure of society - there is a conflict between what people have been socialised to expect and what they can realistically achieve through legal means. Merton argues that this is what leads people to crime and deviance, when trying to find an alternative route to gaining what they want, not through cultural transmission.

Albert Cohen (1955) drew on Merton’s strain theory to develop Status Frustration. Cohen was interested in the fact that not all crimes are committed for economic gain, for example, vandalism. Cohen suggested that working class boys strive to copy middle class norms and values, but lack the means to achieve success. This leads them into believing that they are failures. From this, they reject those ideologies of normal behaviour in an attempt to cover humiliation and gain status, they engage in crime and anti-social behaviour. Thus, they formulate their own dissimilar set of values, as a kind of alternative route to gaining status.

In 1960, Cloward and Ohlin (1961) developed the illegitimate opportunity Structure theory, which runs parallel to the legal one. They based their work...
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