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Evaluate the Contribution that Subculturalist theory has made to our Understanding of Deviant Behaviour.

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Evaluate the Contribution that Subculturalist theory has made to our Understanding of Deviant Behaviour Deviance is defined as behaviour that challenges widely accepted norms and values. It is generally non-conformist and usually attracts moral disapproval from members of society. Many theories have developed, especially in the past 100 years concerning deviance. Subcultural theories developed around the 1950's and followed sociological schools of thought such as physiological and sociological theories. They differ from structural theories of deviance as they explain its origins in terms of the position of the individual in society whereas subcultural theories explain deviance in terms of the subculture of a particular group. That is, certain groups develop norms and values which are different from those held by other members of society. The theory is fairly deterministic and mainly focuses on working class males. This is a criticism in itself as other forms of crime are largely ignored. Subculturalist theory attempts to contribute to our understanding of deviant behaviour, an issue I will discuss. Firstly, Robert K Merton (1938) explains how deviance can result from the culture and structure of society. He primarily begins from a functionalist perspective - that all members of society share the same values. He believes that all members of society strive for the same goal of success which is largely measured in material possessions and wealth. Merton therefore assumes that society is meritocratic. ...read more.


Also the research is only of males who, in addition, must be excellent sociologists to work out middle class values and deliberately attempt to invert them. Another set of Subculturalist sociologists are Cloward and Ohlin (C&O). Richard A Cloward and Lloyd E Ohlin in 1961 wrote 'Delinquency and Opportunity'. Although they accepted Merton's explanation of deviance in term of legitimate opportunity structure, they criticised him for failing to consider the illegitimate opportunity structure. Just as the opportunity to succeed by legitimate means varies so does the means by which to succeed illegitimately. An example is an 18-year lad in an environment where there may be a thriving deviant subculture will have more opportunity to become a successful criminal in an area that does not have such a culture. Similarly to Merton, Cloward and Ohlin believe that working classes are more likely to deviate due to greater pressure, as there is less opportunity to succeed by legitimate means. C & O have identified three possible responses to this situation - Criminal subcultures - a thriving local community of organised deviant and criminal activity. Young people have the opportunity to rise within an established hierarchy. Conflict subcultures - develop in areas where there is little access to either legitimate or illegitimate opportunity structures. Gang warfare develops to serve a release of anger and frustration. Retreatist subcultures - (Merton would refer to these as having no means nor goals to achieve neither legitimately or illegitimately) ...read more.


For example - denial of responsibility or loyalty to higher causes than the law. These might be 'I was drunk' or 'I was just defending my mate'. Matza argues that the use of techniques of neutralization make us doubt the idea of deviant subcultures. This is firstly because their existence is evidence of guilt and shame which suggests at least a partial acceptance of mainstream values. Secondly, one set of mainstream values is sometimes used to justify breaking another. For example, assaulting homosexuals could be justified since it supports mainstream sexual behaviour. There are critiques to Matza's attack on subculturalist theory however. Box (1981) questioned the evidence that Matza used. Delinquents may not be sincere when they say that they regret their actions. Jones (1998) adds that Matzo's theory cannot adequately explain persistent delinquency and violent acts. In conclusion to my essay, I identified the contribution that subculturalist theory has in allowing society in understanding deviant behaviour. It is fair to comment that the theories must be relevant and useful as there have been recent studies based on the original theories where evidence has been proved in modern day society. However, as research methods, sampling techniques and researcher bias have a strong impact on case study findings, subculturalist theory may not be as relevant as once thought. Despite this, I believe that subculturalist theory has allowed sociology to progress giving future researchers a basis of theory upon which to use - either to prove or disprove the various thesis's. Sarah Lee Sarah Lee ...read more.

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