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
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
An American Sociologist Charles Murray (1989) first coined the term ‘the underclass’ to refer to that group of people in America who were long term unemployed and effectively welfare dependent. In the late 1980s he argued that the first generation of underclass were then having children and socialising the next generation of children into a culture of worklessness, thus creating a potential problem for US society because of this group being essentially cut off from ordinary social life and are not constrained by ordinary norms and values like ordinary working people. At that time, Murray looked across to Britain and warned us that in 20 years time we would be facing a similar problem….
Low and behold, A recent article reporting on some relatively recent sociological research from The Times Newspaper (NB – Link is to the Telegraph, not behind an evil pay wall like The Times) reported that….
Two decades after the American sociologist Charles Murray warned that a big new underclass was looming, official studies and ministerial papers — which ministers have chosen not to highlight — reveal that it has finally arrived in the form of the NEETS.
Aged between 16 and 24, they number 1.1m and are responsible for a social and economic drag on society that is vastly disproportionate to their numbers. A study by the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) conservatively estimates that each new Neet dropping out of education at 16 will cost taxpayers an average of £97,000 during their lifetime, with the worst costing more than £300,000 apiece.
Their impact on crime, public health and antisocial behaviour was so marked that the study found that a single 157,000-strong cohort of 16 to 18-year-old Neets would cost the country a total of £15 billion by the time they died prematurely in about 2060. They are, says the study, 22 times more likely to be teenage mothers; 50% more likely to suffer from poor health; 60% more likely to be involved with drugs and more than 20 times more likely to become criminals.
[In response to these figures Charles Murray commented…]
“When I was looking at Britain in the 1980s, the offspring of the first big generation of single mothers were small children,” said Murray, speaking from his home in America. “Now they are teenagers and young adults and the problems are exactly those that I was warning they would be — high crime rates and low participation in the labour force. These people have never been socialised and they simply don’t know how to behave, from sitting still in classrooms to knowing you don’t hit people if you have a problem. It is very difficult, almost impossible, to take these people now and provide basic conditioning. There has always been a small underclass but now you have got a major problem, who are being called the Neets.”
A Subculture is a group that has values that are different to the mainstream culture. Subcultural theorists argue that deviance is the result of whole groups breaking off from society who have deviant values (subcultures) and deviance is a result of these individuals conforming to the values and norms of the subculture to which they belong.
In contrast to Social Control theorists, it is the pull of the peer group that encourages individuals to commit crime, rather than the lack of attachment to the family or other mainstream institutions. Subcultural theory also helps explain non-utilitarian crimes such as vandalism and joy riding which strain theory cannot really explain. Deviance is a collective response to marginalisation.
There are four people you need to know about for Subcultural Theory:
1. Albert Cohen’s Status Frustration Theory
2. Cloward and Ohlin’s three types of subculture
3. Walter Miller – the focal concerns of the working class
4. Charles Murray – the underclass and Crime (links to the New Right)
Albert Cohen: Deviant Subcultures emerge because of Status Frustration
Albert Cohen argues that working class subcultures emerge because they are denied status in society. Just like Merton, Cohen argued that working class boys strove to emulate middle-class values and aspirations, but lacked the means to achieve success. This led to status frustration: a sense of personal failure and inadequacy.
Cohen argued that many boys react to this by rejecting socially acceptable values and patterns of acceptable behaviour. Because there are several boys going through the same experiences, they end up banding together and forming delinquent subcultures.
This delinquent subculture reverses the norms and values of mainstream culture, offering positive rewards (status) to those who are the most deviant. Status may be gained by being malicious, intimidating others, breaking school rules or the law and generally causing trouble.
This pattern of boys rejecting mainstream values and forming delinquent subcultures first starts in school and then becomes more serious later on, taking on the form of truancy and possibly gang membership
Subcultural Theory 2: Cloward and Ohlin’s 3 types of subculture
Cloward and Ohlin develop Cohen’s subcultural theory further, expanding on it in order to try and explain why different types of subculture emerge in different regions. They suggest that the ‘illegitimate opportunity structure’ affects what type of subculture emerges in response to status frustration – The varied social circumstances in which working-class youth live give rise to three types of delinquent subculture.
1. Criminal Subcultures are characterised by utilitarian crimes, such as theft. They develop in more stable working class areas where there is an established pattern of crime. This provided a learning opportunity and career structure for aspiring young criminals, and an alternative to the legitimate job market as a means of achieving financial rewards. Adult criminals exercise social control over the young to stop them carrying out non-utilitarian delinquent acts – such as vandalism – which might attract the attention of the police.
2. Conflict subcultures emerge in socially disorganised areas where there is a high rate of population turnover and a consequent lack of social cohesion. These prevent the formation of stable adult criminal subcultures Conflict subcultures are characterised by violence, gang warfare, ‘mugging’ and other street crime. Both approved and illegal means of achieving mainstream goals are blocked or limited, and young people express their frustration at this situation through violence or street crime, and at least obtain status through success in subcultural peer-group values. This is a possible explanation for the gang culture which is increasingly appearing in run down areas of the UK, and possibly explains the UK riots of 2011.
3. Retreatist subcultures emerge among those lower class youth who are ‘double failures’ – they have failed to succeed in both mainstream society and in the crime and gang cultures above. The response is a retreat into drug addiction and alcoholism, paid for by petty theft, shoplifting and prostitution
Alternative Perspectives to Consensus Subcultural Theories of Crime
Paul Willis’ 1977 study of the Counter-School-Culture represents a Marxist critique of consensus subcultural theory. Willis argued that the working class lads formed a subculture in order to ‘have a laff’ in a school system which they had accurately identified as being irrelevant to their futures. Unlike Cohen, these lads never aspired to be middle class, they identified themselves as working class, rejected middle class aspirations, and rejected the middle class system of the school – thus why Willis coined the term ‘counter (against) school culture’.
David Matza has developed what might cautiously be termed an Interactionist approach to understanding subcultures. Matza suggested that there were no distinct subcultures among young people. Rather, all groups in society share a set of subterranean values. These are simply deviant values that encourage us to go against social norms – the urge to party hard, drink too much, swear, stealing, punch the idiots you work with and sleep with your brother’s wife etc. These are usually held under control, but sometimes emerge at peak leisure times – weekends, holidays and so on. The difference between a persistent offender and a law-abiding citizen is simply how often and in what circumstances these subterranean values emerge.
Postmodernists point out that the nature of subcultures today has changed, in that subcultures are much more common today than they were in the 1960s. Today, subcultures are just a normal part of life. Subcultural theory assumes that there are ‘mainstream norms and values’ which subcultures deviate from. This is wrong according to Postmodernism – in society today, deviance and hence subcultures are ‘normal’, which renders the whole of subcultural theory irrelevant in helping us to understand crime and deviance.
Subcultural theories of deviance are the second group of theories of crime on the A level crime and deviance specification (AQA), normally taught after functionalist and strain theories.
An essay plan on the Marxist Theory of Crime and Deviance – starting with an introduction outlining the Marxist conception of social class and then covering 4-5 key points such as the costs of corporate crime, selective law enforcement and crimogenic capitalism, with some overall evaluations and a conclusion to round off.
The two main sources of official statistics on Crime in the UK (or rather England and Wales!) are:
Police Recorded Crime – which is all crimes recorded by the 43 police forces in England and Wales (as well as the British Transport Police)
The Crime Survey for England and Wales which is a face to face victim survey in which people are asked about their experiences of crime in the previous 12 months.
NB – There are other sources of official statistics on crime, which I’ll come back to later, but these are the two main ones.
Below are three very good web sites which you can use to explore crime stats from the above two sources. The point of this post is really just to direct students to good sources which they can use to explore these statistics (strengths and limitations of crime statistics posts will be forthcoming shortly!)
Published by the Office for National Statistics, Crime in England and Wales provides the most comprehensive coverage of national crime trends. I’d actually recommend starting with the methodology section of this document, which states
This is a good starting point for exploring crime statistics. You can click on an interactive map which will show you how much crime there is in your area. NB this map shows you only police recorded crime, and there are many, many crimes which are not recorded, for various reasons.
This site describes itself as ‘the leading crime and property data’ website – scroll down for a nice colour coded analysis of crime trends for a number of different crime categories. Reported month by month (2 month data lag). I think the table below is CSEW data
What I particularly like about this web site is that it provides data tables by police force – Here’s a link to data for the Surrey Police (Local link, I teach in Surrey, where my measly teacher salary makes me feel poor because of the sickening and unjustified wealth in the local area.) The data below is Police Recorded Crime data.
When looking at statistics on crime, make sure you know whether the stats come from Police Recorded Crime or the Crime Survey of England and Wales (a victim survey) – the two figures will be different, and the difference between them will be different depending on the type of crime – for example the stats for vehicle theft are quite similar (because of insurance claims requiring a police report) but domestic violence figures are very different from these two sources because most offences do not get reported to the police, but many more (but not all) get reported to the CSEW researchers.
A brief overview of some sociological perspectives on crime and deviance – from Functionalism through to Right Realism.
Argue that societies need a limited amount of crime, because crime is inevitable (society of saints argument) and that crime performs three positive functions: regulation, integration and change. Also see Durkheim’s work on suicide.
Social Control Theory
The cause of deviance is the breakdown or weakening of informal agencies of social control such as the family and community. Criminal activity occurs when the individual’s attachment to society is weakened. According to Hirschi there are four types of social bond
Merton’s Strain Theory
Crime and deviance occur in times of anomie when there is a ‘strain’ between society’s socially approved ‘success goals’ and the opportunities available to achieve these goals. Crime occurs when individuals still want to achieve the success goals of society but abandon the socially approved means of obtaining those goals.
Explains deviance in terms of the subculture of certain social groups. Deviance is the result of individuals suffering ‘status frustration’ and conforming to the values and norms of a subculture which rewards them for being deviant. Focuses on crimes of the working class.
Explain crime in terms of Capitalism and the class structure – The Ruling classes make the law to benefit them, the law protects private property. Ruling and Middle class crime is more harmful than working class crime but ruling classes are less likely to get caught and punished for crime. Selective law enforcement performs ideological functions. WCs commit crime due to the ‘dog eat dog’ values of capitalist system – selfishness, materialism.
Focus on how crime is socially constructed, on how certain acts become defined as criminal or deviant, and how certain people are more likely to be defined as deviant than others. Labelling Theory and Moral Panic Theory are key ideas within Interactionism.
Fuses Traditional Marxist and Interactionism. Crime is an outgrowth of capitalism, but moral panics over the relatively minor crimes of marginalised groups make the public side with the ruling class against the marginalised, maintaining social order. Believe that criminology should focus on highlighting the injustices of the Capitalist System in order to change society.
Concerned with working class crime, believe that we should work with the system in order to improve the lives of the victims of crime, who are mainly working class. Marginalisation, relative deprivation and subcultures are the main causes of crime and we should aim to tackle crime on multiple fronts – more community (less militaristic) policing and tackling poverty and marginalisation within communities are solutions.
Right Realism is more concerned with practical solutions to crime. Relatively simple theories such as rational choice and Broken Windows theory explain crime and Zero Tolerance Policing and Situational Crime Prevention are the solutions
An essay plan on Post/ Late Modern perspectives on crime and deviance covering the relationship between consumerism and crime (Robert Reiner), The Vertigo of Late Modernity (Jock Young), the consequences of globalisation for crime, and the rise of cyber crime, all followed by some evaluations and a conclusion.
Brief intro outlining the key ideas of Post/ Late Modernism
Postmodern society is different to modern society – It is more consumerist, and individuals have more freedom of choice than ever before.
Late Modernists argue that crime has changed in some fundamental ways in the age of postmodernity
Point One – Consumer society is a high crime society (Robert Reiner)
Crime started to rise in the 1950s with the birth of consumerism
80% of crime is property crime, suggesting a link between the increase in materialism and the rise of crime
Rapid crime increase became especially pronounced with the neoliberal policies of Thatcher
Point Two – The ‘Vertigo of Late Modernity’ (uncertainty) explains crime and deviance today (Jock Young)
Postmodern life is insecure – neither jobs nor relationships are for life. These instabilities create a constant state of ‘anomie’ or meaninglessness.
Thus people no longer find security in their jobs/ relationships, and they thus look for thrills at weekends to give their life meaning – risk taking behaviour is the norm (‘edgework’) and much crime is an outcome of this.
Winlow’s study of night-time violence supports this, as does Katz’s work on ‘Edgework’.
Point Three – Globalisation has resulted in many new types of crime
Postmodern culture is global – there are many new flows of money, goods, technologies and ideas which open up new opportunities for crime.
Some of the most significant types of global crime are drug-crime, people trafficking, cybercrime and the global terrorist threat.
One thing fuelling this is global inequality (demand and supply).
One major consequence is the increase awareness of ‘risk consciousness’ and the increase in fear, especially because of the perceived terrorist threat.
Point Four – New Technologies open up new opportunities for crime, especially cyber-crime
Cybercrime is one of the fastest growth areas of crime and this is global in nature.
Fraud is one type of crime – such as the Nigerian Romance Scam.
Cyber-stalking and harassment also seems to be more common than face to face crimes of this nature.
Governments are also under threat from ‘cyber attacks’ from foreign powers.
+ Society and the nature of crime do seem to have changed in recent years, so it’s worth revisiting the ‘underlying causes’
+ Better than Marxism and Feminism as these theories look at crime more generally, rather than just focussing on issues of power.
– On closer inspection there doesn’t seem to be much new in many late-modern theories of crime – much of it just seems to be Strain Theory updated.
– These theories may be too general to be useful to anyone. If there are multiple causes of crime, which are complex and global, we have no clue what to do to control crime?!?
Conclusion – How useful are post (late) modern theories in helping us understand crime and deviance
On the plus side it is clear that the nature of crime has changed with the onset of a global, hyper-connected postmodern society.
However, we might not need a completely new batch of theories to understand these changes. Marxists, for example, would say that we can understand much global crime, and even much ‘local crime’ because of the increase in economic inequalities which are part of globalisation.