Do Subcultural theories offer convincing explanations for group offending by young men and women today? Are there any other theoretical perspectives which you may consider to be useful and relevant?

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Do Subcultural theories offer convincing explanations for group offending by young men and women today? Are there any other theoretical perspectives which you may consider to be useful and relevant?

Subcultural theories examine the behaviour and actions of various groups within society – groups with either reject or depart from the traditional norms and views of the majority. These groups are referred to as subcultures, and subcultural theories attempt to explain why these groups – most are concerned with “youth gangs” and gang delinquency – engage in deviant acts.

Subcultural theories originated in America and in particular the Univeristy of Chicago Sociology Department. Clifford Shaw and Henry McKay at the University studied juvenile crime rates in Chicago and they divided the city up into a series of concentric rings. They then calculated the delinquency rates of in each ring finding that areas with the highest crime rates were those in the centre of the city, with the rates diminishing outwards from the centre. They noted that delinquency was lower in areas of high economic status while it was seen to be high in areas of low economic status. Their studies also found that these findings remained constant over time, notwithstanding "successive changes in the nativity and nationality composition of the population".


They therefore came to the conclusion that "delinquency-producing factors are inherent in the community" and are culturally transmitted. They said that what is transmitted is “social disorganisation” This term referred to an inconsistency of values, attitudes and standards of behaviour. In areas of high economic status, ie. the middle class, there is consistency and uniformity of attitudes and morals, whereas in low economic status areas there is an absence of common values with competing attitudes and standards prevalent instead. Shaw and Mckay state that in the latter situation "delinquency has developed as a powerful competing way of life". There are, therefore, “rival” values, conventional and non-conventional, and gang and juvenile delinquency is a symptom of this conflict.

Another theory to emerge from Chicago is Edwin Sutherland and Donald Cressey s differential association theory. Although not strictly a subcultural theory in the strict definition of the term this theory is so closely related so as to be worthy of consideration. Differential association says that criminal and deviant behaviour is learnt behaviour in the same sense as other behaviour is learnt. It tells us that a person is likely to become a criminal if they are exposed to "an excess of definitions favourable to violation of the law over definitions unfavourable to violation of the law".

The effect which these associations have may vary in frequency, duration, priority and intensity. In this process of differential association, Sutherland and Cressey stress that the strongest part of the learning occurs within intimate personal groups and we can see that they are stressing the importance of the peer group, family and friends in the learning process. They also make the point that all the associations which one has in life could be quantified and a mathematical formula reached which would enable us to find out how a person will turn out. Sutherland and Cressey acknowledge however that such a “weighing up” of associations would be "extremely difficult".

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Albert Cohen's main interest lay in explaining juvenile delinquency, and his major work “Delinquent Boys”, published in 1955, claimed that a delinquent subculture exists which could explain crime amongst juveniles. He said that when we look at the delinquent subculture we see that it is "non-utilitarian, malicious and negativistic". This, he explains, is because the subculture takes its norms from the wider culture and turns them upside down. Therefore, what the delinquent does is right according to the standards of the subculture because it is wrong according to the standards of wider society. But why do juveniles form or ...

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