Subcultural Theories for Explaining ‘Subcultural Crime and Deviance’ in Society Today

Last Updated: 20 Apr 2022
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Using material from Item A and elsewhere, assess the usefulness of subcultural theories in explaining ‘subcultural crime and deviance’ in society today (21 marks) Subcultural theories believe that people who commit a crime share different values to the rest of society. Subculture theories come from two different schools of sociology which are appreciative sociology and strain theory.

Appreciative sociology came from the University of Chicago in the early 20th Century; Chicago sociologists were determined to appreciate other lifestyles and cultures in Chicago using a participant observation which existed after a huge number of migrants from Europe and Southern USA. Whyte’s Street Corner Society (1943) suggests that deviant groups in society have clear norms and values which justify their behaviour.

The Chicago study would say that it is useful in explaining subcultural crime and deviance because they used participant observations to get more accurate results within different subcultures and Whyte would also agree that it is useful because they could justify their behaviour by the norms and values in which they share. In item A “some sociologists link subcultural crime and deviance to the nature of capitalism” this shows that some sociologists believe that it doesn’t matter about what your norms and values are but depending on the amount of money that you have will determine you to turn to crime.

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In a stratified society they have goals which are linked with their position in the social system, each layer share different goals, but the system can only work if the majority of people can reach their goals, however, if they can’t then you can reach an anomie. This theory of that crime is committed due to your social class isn’t useful because it is more stereotypical to say that a lower on under class would commit the crimes rather than middle and upper class due to their subcultures norms and values being different but it isn’t to say that they won’t commit the crimes but it would be for different reasons.

Robert Merton (1938) located a deviance within a functionalist framework. He said that crime and deviance were a result of a strain between the socially accepted goals of society for example having your dream house, and socially approved means of achieving these goals which are getting a job in which can support the socially accepted goals. This can lead to a state of anomie in which an individual suffering from anomie would strive to attain the common goals of a specific society yet would not be able to reach these goals legitimately ecause of the structural limitations in society. As a result the individual would exhibit deviant behaviour. Merton then suggested if a section of society cannot achieve a set of goals, they look to alternative ways of achieving their goals. There are 5 different forms of behaviour which could be understood as a strain between goals and means and they are: conformity (wanting to fit in), innovation (progressing), ritualism (things you go for), retreatism (step back from society) and rebellion (rebel against society).

Merton’s theory has proven useful because he said that due to the poor fit in society causes anomie and by identifying 5 different forms of behaviour each member in society will fit into one section and is easier to place them into a subculture to help explain crime and deviance, by using the five stages will help locate the highest rates and become more useful to people analysing crime rates and what their behaviour is between their goals and means.

Cloward and Ohlin (1960) said that Merton had failed to appreciate that there was a parallel opportunity structure to the legal one which is called the illegitimate opportunity structure. In this illegitimate opportunity structure a regular criminal career is available, with recognised means of obtaining the society’s goals. Dick Hobbs (1998) used the illegitimate opportunity structure to interview successful professional criminals who had demonstrated that they have a possible career in crime as they were given the right connections and qualities to be a criminal.

The illegal opportunity structure has 3 different subcultures which are: criminal such as gangs, conflict such as people fighting against society and retreatist which are people retreating from society. The illegitimate opportunity structure is seen as useful in explaining subcultural crime and deviance because for some people there is a criminal opportunity structure and is easy to identify which category they fall into and how it is easier to move from one to another depending on the values and morals in each group.

In conclusion subcultural theories are useful in explaining subcultural crime and deviance in society today because categorising people into particular groups allows it easier to compare and allows people to justify reasons for committing the crimes rather than just stereotyping particular people, and as seen in the Chicago study using participant observations becomes more reliable and get more of an insight into why people commit the crimes they do.

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Subcultural Theories for Explaining ‘Subcultural Crime and Deviance’ in Society Today. (2017, Jan 13). Retrieved from

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