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Explanations of criminal behaviour which make reference to delinquent subcultures can be found amongst the groups of sociologists known as the Chicago School.

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Introduction

Explanations of criminal behaviour which make reference to delinquent subcultures can be found amongst the groups of sociologists known as the Chicago School. This school (represented by theorists such as Robert Park, Clifford Shaw and Henry MacKay) also became known as the ecological school because of their concentration upon the effects of the urban environment on individual behaviour. The growth of the modern city was seen to produce distinctive neighbourhoods and life styles and the development of delinquent subcultures. Shaw and MacKay in "Juvenile Delinquency and Urban Areas" (1942) divide the city of Chicago into five zones, each one at two mile intervals radiating in concentric circles from the central business district. In a statistical analysis of each zone, Shaw and MacKay discovered that the male rates of delinquency were at their highest in zone one (the area closest to the city centre or central business district) while the lowest rate of deviancy occurred in zone five in the high income outskirts of the city. When Chicago and other major cities first developed, the business area was surrounded by the elegant houses of the affluent members of society; however, when the business district began to expand the rich moved out, occupying the outside zones. ...read more.

Middle

Albert K Cohen's "status frustration theory" is very similar to the functionalism of R K Merton in "Social Structure and Anomie" (1968). Cultural goals are not always matched by institutional means of achievement (according to Merton), leading to a number of adaptations by members of society; the main adaptation being "innovation", involving a rejection of the normal means of achieving success goals and adopting illegitimate ones. Due to educational failure and rejection at school, working class youths find themselves at the bottom of the stratification system; their chances of advancement and of gaining the cultural goals of society are blocked, leading to status frustration. Rather than stealing and adopting criminal behaviour in order to obtain middle class lifestyles, the delinquent subculture rejects this mainstream culture and replaces it with an alternative set of norms and values. The working classes are unable to measure up to middle class standards; therefore, they reject them and develop a culture whereby acts of daring, of criminality and disruption, are redefined as 'normal' and 'good', and a way of earning high status from one's peer groups. ...read more.

Conclusion

The final group for Cloward and Ohlin, is retreatist subculture, which deals with those youths who have failed in both criminal and conflict cultures and tend to withdraw or retreat into illegal drug use and alcoholism. By the 1970's, subcultural theory was under increasing criticism, although it has never been totally rejected; social theories that have followed have used at least some of the concepts employed by subculturists. However one of the most persuasive arguments presented against subcultural explanations has been from D Matza. According to Matza, most deviance is quite normal. All individuals, whatever their social class, have deviant values lying just under the surface and, occasionally, 'drift' in and then out of deviancy. Few differences are emphasised (by Matza) between deviants and conformists - and there is certainly little evidence of the existence of a permanent deviant subculture. Studies of the justifications for criminal activity by delinquents show that individuals are affected by the values of the dominant mainstream culture. Techniques of 'neutralisation' are adopted by a delinquent in order to justify his or her actions: for instance, denial of responsibility e.g. joyriding, which is explained as a search for fun rather than stealing. Subculture theory is accused, therefore, of overestimating and overemphasising the amount of delinquent activity. ...read more.

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