Cultural and Subcultural Theories
Cultural and Subcultural Theories
Cloward and Ohlin - Differential Opportunity Theory
Three working-class delinquent subcultures
Criminal subcultures = utalitarian crime
Conflict subcultures = socially disorganised areas where there is lack of social cohesion
Retreatist subcultures = 'double failures' in both succeeding in mainstream and criminal culture, so lead to drug addictions/ alcoholism
Members of society share common value system - emphasis on life goals, especially success
Legitimate and illegitimate avenues for achieving the goals ('opportunity structures'
Not equally available to all groups and classes of society
Legitimate opportunity structure (middle and upper class) vs. illegitimate opportunity structure (lower class)
Adaption to strain mediated by the availability of particular means
Strength - it is helpful and gives insights into why working-class delinquency may take different forms in different social circumstances
Exaggerate the differences between the three types of subculture, as in reality they overlap eachother.
Insights into graffiti writing, far right/white supremacists groups etc.
What is new or different about cultural criminology? Does it offer anything more than an elaboration on previous work around deviant subcultures?
Failure to be precise about what is meant by 'culture' - does it even have a theory of culture?
Descriptive rather than analytical - can it explain anything?
Little information on major social institutions or the state
Three key scholars - Jeff Ferrell, Keith Hayward, Jock Young
Reassertion of the importance of sociologically informed criminology (vs. 'administrative' criminology)
Innovative, unorthodox methods (e.g. instant ethnography, auto ethnography, visual criminology)
Focus on meaning, repersentation, social construction of crime - crime and control as 'cultural products'
Crime as culture - much criminal behaviour is also subcultural behaviour
Culture as crime - cultural activities criminalised through labels and sanctions
Focus on media and mediatised nature of crime (see mind map on media and crime)
Working class youths
Believe in the success goals of mainstream culture :check:
Experiences of failure in education, living in deprived areas and unemployment = little opportunity to achieve approved goals by legitimate means
Believe they are denied status in mainstream society (e.g. no access to respectable status by family, cannot achieve status = status frustration
They react to this system by developing an alternative value system (delinquent subculture)
Crimes not for financial gain but for revenge
Members of society share common value system (middle-class values)
Most common values stress goals that result in gaining status - status approved goal
Societal institutions reflect middle class values and goals
Opportunities to reach goals are unequally distributed
Downes and Rock (2007) - Cohen's theory of delinquency had six main factors
Economic rationality is largely absent
Much delinquent activity is characterised by 'malice'
The behaviour involves a rejection of dominant values
Gang activity is hedonistic and emphasises instant gratification
Delinquents are not specialists - their delinquent behaviour is varied
Primary allegiance is to the gang rather than other groups
Miller (1962) 'The independent subculture and focal concerns' - not possible for youths to reject mainstream values because they never adopted them in the first place.
Matza (1964) Drift theory - youths not committed to delinquent values. They have mainstream values and merely drift in and out of occasional delinquency
Focus on delinquency within gangs and saw gang delinquency as a form of solution to the strains faced by young men, specifically as a result of their failure within the education system.
‘The delinquent subculture [...] is a way of dealing with the problems of adjustment. These problems are chiefly status problems: certain children are denied status in the respectable society because they cannot meet the criteria of the respectable status system. The delinquent subculture deals with these problems by providing criteria of status which these children can meet’
(Cohen 1955, p. 121)
Strength - helps to explain working class delinquency as a group response rather than it being a focus on individuals
Early subcultural theory
1940s and 1950s, mainly in the US
Extension of Robert Merton's work on anomie and strain subsequently introduced the notion of culture and subculture to the study of delinquency
Influenced by the work of the Chicago School - core features include the focus on the city, the ethnographic and appreciative approach to research, and concern with the cultural basis of crime.
Applied to juveniles and urban 'gangs'
'[These approaches] all share a common sentiment that certain social groups have values and attitudes that enable or encourage delinquency'
(Burke 20001, p. 112)
Cohen (1955) - 'Culture' is the systemised 'traditional ways of solving problems' transmitted across time.
Culture as jointly elaborated solutions to collectivey experience problems
Culture can include all form of human behaviour (e.g. language, way of dress, moral standards, political institutions, art forms, work norms, modes of sexuality
Three levels in the analysis of subcultures
Historical analysis - which isolated the specific problematic of a particular class (in this case the respectable working-class)
Structural and semiotic analysis - the way in which they are articulated and the transformations which those subsystems undergo from one moment to another
Phenomenological analysis- the way the subculture is 'lived out'
Subculture emerging from already existing cultures
Solution to problems perceived within the framework of the dominant cultures
Four subsystems which can be divided into 2 basic types
More recent subcultural theory
1960s and the 1970s, mainly in the UK
Applicability of North American theory to the British context
Drawn upon vivid life of UK subcultural formations to illustrate cultural characteristics and deviant perceptions
Focus on youth leisure and style subcultures (e.g. mods vs. rockers, punks vs. teds, skinheads, clubbing subcultures, grime and urban music) rather than delinquency
Need to think beyond 'youth' or 'gang' formations to understand the subcultures
The 'latent function' of subculture - Phil Cohen
Study of youth subcultures in East London in early 1970s
Subcultures not just as a response to problems of material conditions (e.g. class, schooling)
But also as a symbolic critique of the dominant culture
Solution largely expressed through style rather than crime
Selectivity - focus on the most unusual subcultures and blindness to gender
Over emphasised importance of middle-class values and stereotyped view of working-class culture
Crime as a product of conformity to working-class norms, rather than failure to meet middle-class expectations
Subcultures of violence often associated with lower-class, working-class environments
Focus on localised normative systems in conflict with more general social normative systems
Focus on social and political context (vs. biological and psychological factors)
Crime as a 'solution' to structural problems faced by young men
Determinisms- structural and cultural constraints granted an over-determining role (vs. free will)
Collective nature of much delinquency - fails to explain 'individualistic' crimes (e.g. law-abiding person who commits fraud because they have lost a lot of money)
Fails to consider dominant cultures and deviance associated with them
Limitations of functionalist-based explanations
Assume a value consensus (rose tinted view)
Subcultural explanations on look at working class crime
They rely on pattern of crime shown in official statistics
The idea of delinquent subculture implies they are committed to delinquency, yet Matza found that most working-class youth don't engage regularly in illegal acts.
Matza criticises subcultural theory for making the delinquent out to be different from others. Matza stresses the similarities, when being caught offending they use techniques of neutralisation which are rooted in mainstream values to justify and explain their actions.
Sykes and Matza
Techniques of neutralisation - the way delinquent behaviour is justified
Denial of responsibility
Denial of injury
Denial of the victim
Condemnation of the condemners
Appeal to higher loyalties
A critique and reworking of strain theory
Matza was critical of strain theory for its over-prediction of delinquency
Adopt subterranean values
Mods vs. Rockers and 'moral panics'
Deviance amplification, folk devils and moral panics
Hall et al. (1978)
, in their study of mugging, and
, show how the media can whip up a moral panic
Moral panics tend to appear during periods of social uncertainty, such as periods of rapid social change or political and economic crisis.
Those defined as deviant are easy scapegoats to blame for a range of social problems.
The way the media may actually create or make worse the very problems they condemn is known as
How relevant is the concept of a moral panic?
- the boundaries separating moral and immoral behaviour have become blurred.
Postmodernists - people are more sceptical of media platforms, and are less likely to believe them.
McRobbie & Thornton (1995)
- moral panics are no longer useful for understanding crime because new media technology, and sophisticate audience etc. have changed the reporting and reaction to, events that might have caused a moral panic.
- in a contemporary 'risk society' there are now so many risks and uncertainties that many of the things that used to generate moral panics have now become a norm.
Steve Hall (2012)
- there is no such thing as a moral panic.
The headlines reflect a real sense of exasperation felt by many
Media also overaggerates the CJSs ability to solve these crimes
Public concern is generated only to be soothed by the media in a way that increases the publics faith in the CJS - the opposite of panic.