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Examine the similarities and differences between subcultural theory and strain theory as explanations of deviant behaviour

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Examine the similarities and differences between subcultural theory and strain theory as explanations of deviant behaviour Subcultural theory explains deviance in terms of the existence of social groups, which hold different values to that of mainstream society. Strain theory on the other hand, explains deviance in terms of people who are placed in a position where they are unable to conform to mainstream values, for example the lower classes. While strain theory doesn't use the term subcultures, it does however attempt to give reasons why some groups in society are more likely to be deviant. Sociologist Merton (1938) attempted to expand on Durkheim's concept of anomie and explain what causes crime within society. He argued that society ascribed to a dominant value with was to 'get rich quick', however only the minority within society had the legitimate means to achieve this success; such as opportunities within education, talent and hard work. He argues further that deviance is found naturally within society and Merton believed that it was society itself which causes it. Further, Merton believed that when societal norms, or socially accepted goals (such as the American Dream), place pressure on the individual to conform they force the individual to either work within the structure society has produced, or instead, become members of a deviant subculture. ...read more.


Working class youths internalise mainstream norms and values through socialisation. Working class youths face blocked opportunities (e.g. at school) because of their position in the social class structure. Working class youths as a whole (groups not just individuals) suffer from status frustration (realise that they cannot achieve in middle class terms). But, Cohen extends Merton's theory by incorporating a strong cultural element in his explanation. Some working class youths make a decision to completely reject mainstream norms and values. This is because of the status frustration they feel. Mainstream norms and values are replaced with alternative delinquent subcultural norms and values. For Cohen a high value is placed on non-financial negativistic delinquent acts. For example, joy riding, arson and vandalism. The delinquent subculture provides an alternative means of gaining status and striking back at an unequal social system that has branded them as 'failures'. Cloward and Ohlin accept Cohen's views on the structural origins of crime and deviance. However, Cloward and Ohlin criticise Cohen's cultural explanation of crime. In particular, his failure to explain the variety of subcultural forms that emerges out of the social structure. Cloward and Ohlin maintain that the form working class delinquent subcultures take depends on access to criminal networks. ...read more.


Furthermore, Subcultural theories have been criticised on a theoretical level. The phenomenologist Matza (1964) criticises subcultural theories for over-estimating juvenile delinquency. They do this by assuming that membership of delinquent subcultures is permanent. He argues that individuals drift in and out of delinquency, employing techniques of neutralisation (e.g. they deserved it) as they do so, and therefore crime and deviance is temporary and episodic (every now and gain). This suggests that subcultural theories only offer a partial view on crime and deviance. In conclusion, some argue that the difference between subcultural and strain theory is that subculture theory offers an account of deviance/crime that is located within the participants own term of reference and understanding whereas, strain theory suggest a variety of responses to situations of frustration, not just criminal activity. However, there are some criticisms to both theories. Strain theory does not spell out way any one individual becomes a retatist rather than a rebel, for example also subcultural theory forces exclusively on delinquent boys and ignores phenomena such as female gangs. However, both theories have one thing in common which is that they assume that most crime is committed by the lower classes and ignore white-collar and other types of crimes of the powerful. ?? ?? ?? ?? ...read more.

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