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Outline and Assess Subcultural Theories of Crime and Deviance

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Introduction

Outline and Assess subcultural theories of crime and deviance. Consistently in the news we hear of the rise of certain subcultures, the rise of the 'hoodie culture' in teens for example. However, what exactly is a subculture, and are they really linked to crime and deviant behaviour as much as society believes? A subculture can be defined as a group of people who have their own culture, with their own norms and values, which differentiates from the larger culture to what they belong. Many sociologists have researched into the links between subcultures and crime and deviance, to try and establish whether those involved are more likely to commit criminal behaviour, as official statistics suggest. In the early 20th Century, a dramatic social change was taking place in Chicago, and in response to this emerged the University of Chicago, the first 'parent-school' of subcultural sociology. These Chicago sociologists were determined to appreciate the wide variety of cultures and lifestyles prevalent in Chicago at the time, due to the wide influx of migrants from all over Europe and Southern USA. Through their experimental use of, what we now call, participant observation, they wished to observe and note down the sheer variety and dynamism of urban life. Thanks to this integral research, two important studies were released, Fredric Thrasher's The Gang(1927) and Whyte's Street Corner Society(1943). These two research pieces paved the way for future sociologists to investigate into deviant groups, as it was already established that these groups in society had clear norms and values of their own that justified their different behaviour. Late on in the 1930's, Robert Merton (1938), tried to find how deviance fitted in within a functionalist framework, however, Merton himself was not a functionalist. He decided that crime and deviance were the proof that the individual did not fit into society's accepted goals and did not agree with the socially approved means of obtaining those goals. ...read more.

Middle

This resulted in the rejection of the acceptable behaviour in which they could not succeed. He suggests that school therefore, is the key area for the playing out of this drama, as lower-class children are much more likely to fail and feel humiliated in the classroom. To counteract this and gain status, they 'invert' traditional values and behave badly, engaging in a variety of antisocial behaviour. They may often resort to being the 'class-clown', who fools around and disrupts the lesson, as they feel this is the way to climb up the social ladder. However, many have criticised Cohen, least of all Feminist Sociologists. As with Cloward and Ohlin and Merton, there is no discussion of female deviancy, his study is solely based on males. Also, Cohen failed to prove that school really was the environment in which success and failure are demonstrated mainly. But the major criticism of his work is that he assumes the young delinquents must be brilliant sociologists to work out that they are lower-class, to work out the middle-class values and then invert them to gain status. Many believe Cohen is correct, he has just missed the fundamental point that these individuals are children. Another subcultural sociologist was writing in the 1950's, Walter Miller. He developed an approach to crime, which expanded on Cohen's class based theory. Miller suggested the deviancy was linked to the culture of the lower-class males; suggesting that they have six focal concerns which are likely to lead them to delinquency. The first was smartness; that the individual must look good and also be witty with a 'sharp repartee'. Also, the concern of trouble; the culture of 'I don't go looking for trouble it finds me', it's never their fault, they didn't start it. Focal concern number three links to Cohen and his discovery that crime was committed for the thrill, yet Miller says that lower-class males feel it is important to search out these thrills and so calls this concern excitement. ...read more.

Conclusion

However, Winlow argues these values are most obvious when the economic social structure is changing. He suggests that the traditional working class values fitted alongside physical work, which is now in decline, so they are restless and desperate to prove their masculinity. These values have dispersed due to the rise of office work. He further suggests that these problems greatly affect young males who are out of employment. So, to conclude, there are many different approaches to explaining subculture and its place in society, all of which are as valid today as they were when the original research was carried out, from studying the British 'Street Corner Groups' in the early 1900's, to the participant observation of crack dealers in New York City, all of these theories are still relevant to the gang culture of today. However, looking at the theories, the one society can relate to most is Metza and Subterranean Values. This is very obviously prevalent in society today, from photocopying body parts at the office party and blaming it on the alcohol, to the men who get cleared of rape, claiming the victim isn't a victim as she was wearing clothes which led the man on. Whether subcultures do or do not share common social values will be disputed for many years, yet Maza's techniques of neutralization will be evident in society always, therefore, I believe I identify most with this theory, as it seeks to explain natural patterns of behaviour, not seek to infiltrate gang culture and lifestyles. Having said this, I am particularly interested in Bourgois's El Barrio research as I agree with him and the dealers, crime makes economic sense, why work a nine-to-five for minimum wage, when you can earn enough money on your doorstep? Perhaps, if I had access to a criminal subculture, I would become involved as Cloward and Ohlin said, yet unfortunately my future is even bleaker according to them, a retreatist lifestyle involving drugs or alcohol, good job I believe Merton and feel I am a conformist, adhering to both the socially accepted goals and means. ...read more.

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