Subcultural Theories of Crime – A Summary

Introduction/ The basics

  • Subcultural Theory explains deviance in terms of a deviant group, split apart from the rest of the society which encourages deviance

  • Historical Period: The 1940s- 60S, Underclass Theory – 1980s

Albert Cohen: Status Frustration

  • working class boys try to gain status within school and fail, thus suffer status frustration

  • Some such boys find each-other and form a subculture

  • status is gained within the subculture by breaking mainstream rules.

Cloward and Ohlin: Illegitimate Opportunity Structure (IOS)

  • A combination of strain theory and subcultural theory

  • The type of subculture an individual joins depends on existing subcultures (which form an IOS)

  • There are three types of subculture: Criminal (working class areas/ organised petit crime), Conflict (less table populations), and Retreatist (e.g. drug subcultures) which C and O saw as being formed by people who lacked the skills to join the former two).

Walter Miller: Focal Concerns

  • Saw the lower working class as a subculture with its own set of unique values

  • Working class culture emphasised six focal concerns (or core values) which encouraged criminal behaviour amongst working class youth.

  • Three examples of these focal concerns where toughness (physical prowess), excitement (risk-taking) and smartness (being street-smart)

Charles Murray: Underclass Theory

By the 1980s an Underclass had emerged in Britain.

  • Key features = long term unemployment, high rates of teen pregnancies and single parent households

  • Means children are not socialised into mainstream norms and values and have become NEETS

  • The underclass is 20 times more criminal than the rest of society.

Overall Evaluations of Subcultural Theories of Crime

Positive Negative
  • Unlike Bonds of Attachment Theory recognises that much crime is done in groups, not lone individuals
  • Unlike Functionalism does not see crime as functional.
X – Contemporary research shows gang (subculture) membership is more fluid than the above research stuggests

X – Recent research shows that the underclass doesn’t really exist and working class culture is more complex

X – There is a much wider variety of subcultures today

X – Ignores the role of agents of social control labelling in subculture formation

X – Underclass Theory is ideological – based on moral panics

X – Marxism: ignores the crimes of the elite.

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