Theoretical Perspectives: Subcultural Theories
* Highlight marginal groups in society, such as young working class males living in urban areas.
* They explain deviance and criminality in terms of gangs and peer group influences, masculinity and a sense of rejection by the wider society, one outcome being educational failure.
* Subcultures are usually defined as those groups which are in some way antagonistic to mainstream values but which do not prove head-on opposition e.g. Mods and Rockers, punks, skinheads etc. Eventually they ‘grow up’ and become adults.
* Some groups are antagonistic to the wider society and want to overthrow it or change it by revolutionary and/or violent means. Such groups are referred to as countercultures.
* Groups, which reject mainstream society but create their own separate alternative, are called countercultures. For example the hippie movement.
Albert Cohen on subcultures
* American sociologist who was one of the first to address the issue of subcultures and gangs.
* Deviance within young working class males in gang subcultures was not necessarily related to economic of financial ends.
* He explained deviant acts such as vandalism and robbery in terms of status deprivation and frustration experienced by young working class males.
* Educational experiences invariably result in them being classed as outsiders and failures by middle-class teachers.
* They are placed in lower streams and gain very little from their time at school. They do not accept middle class goals of academic success and attainment and create their own sense of status among peers.
* A reaction to the ‘middle class measuring stick’
* Being part of a group such as a delinquent gang provides a sense of belonging and status.
Evaluating Cohen’s views
* A number of ethnographic studies have provided support for Cohen’s views, including
James Patrick’s A Glasgow Gang Observed (1973)
David Hargreave et al.’s Deviance in the classroom (1975)
Paul Willis’ Learning to Labour (1977)
Stephen Ball’s Beachside comprehensive (1981)
* There are still assumptions in this approach of some sort of dominant value system that is rejected by delinquent youth. More relativistic theories, such as those within an interpretative framework, question such views and deny commonality of values, which we all aspire to or reject.
* The invisibility of females in the studies
Cloward and Ohlin
* Addressed similar issues to Cohen and developed aspects of subcultural theory linking his work to Merton’s concept of anomie.
* Identified three levels of deviance
Occurs in areas with an already established criminal underworld where in effect young men are ‘apprentice criminals’ from an early age. They learn their craft of robbery and other types of stealing from older men.
There is no clear criminal socialisation. Turn to gangs for identity. Gang warfare.
These are ‘Double failures’. They are neither able to become proper criminals as in the first level criminals or members of the violent gangs in the second. They resort to drug abuse financed by petty crime such as shoplifting.
* The invisibility of ethnicity in the studies
* Elliot Liebow Tally’s Corner looks at a black subculture and William Foote Whyte Street Corner Society examines the Italian community.
* Ken Pryce Endless Pressure examines the afro-Caribbean community in the St Paul’s district of Bristol.
* The theories covered so far are structuralist in that they see deviance as an aspect of the social structure of society
* Critics point out that such approaches are deterministic, in that they see deviants as a product of their position in the social structure.
* Cohen sees lower working class males delinquency as a reflection of structural forces that are beyond their control.
* Looks at Subterranean values, this is where common values are replaced by opposite ones.
* Another concept introduced by Matza is techniques of neutralisation which applies to how people explain their seemingly untypical behaviour e.g. ‘I was drunk at the time’
* Suggests youth drift into situations ‘we were just out for a laugh’.
Evaluatin Matza’s work
* Addressed the shortcomings of structuralist approach and its tendency to see things in deterministic terms
* Involves dimension of free will but still recognises structural constraints
* Critics pointed out the difficulty in pin pointing the concept of drifting for research purposes.
* Does not give valid data because often respondants give ‘approved of’ accounts