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June 10, 2008 / C H Thompson

Marxist, Functionalist and Subcultural perspectives of crime (part 3)

Cloward and Ohlin provide other explanations for working class delinquency. Cohen could not explain why delinquent subcultures take different forms, for example some are mainly concerned with theft while others focus on violence. Cloward and Ohlin identify 3 types of delinquent subculture. The first is criminal subculture. It tends to develop in areas where an illegitimate opportunity structure is present. Adolescents use crime for material gain. Adult criminals teach the youths the tricks of the trade.’ There is conflict subculture, which tends to develop in areas where an illegitimate opportunity structure is absent. Delinquents often form conflicting gangs out of frustration at the lack of available opportunity structures. Finally there is the retreatist subculture, which emerges among those who have failed to succeed either by legitimate means or by being part of a criminal or conflict subculture. They tend to retreat to drug and alcohol abuse.
Cloward and Ohlin’s theory is good in that it shows that working class delinquency is not just concerned with material gain. The theory also identifies and explains a number of different subcultures. However, Cloward and Ohlin fail to realise that the different subcultures can overlap. For example gangs involved in conflict subculture often deal in drugs, and make large sums of money in the process.
According to Walter Miller, lower class subcultures have a number of focal concerns. They are:- fate, excitement, autonomy, smartness, trouble and toughness. Lower class delinquency results from young men acting out the concerns of lower-class subculture. In doing this, they often break the law. Miller argues the norms and values of the lower classes are different from the mainstream ones, and they are more likely to lead to crime. For example, one of the focal concerns is autonomy. The lower classes believe in freedom and independence, and do not like being told what to do. This may bring them into conflict with authority figures, such as police. The focal concerns theory has been criticised. Miller pictures lower class subculture as a distinctive tradition, many centuries old.’ It assumes all lower class males are seen to act out this subculture with little reference to mainstream society. While a lower class subculture may exist, it can’t be true that all working class males have norms and values that are all different from mainstream ones. For example, not all working class boys want to fail in education.

There are other explanations for crime an deviance, such as David Matza’s techniques of neutralisation,’ theory. According to Matza, many express guilt and shame for their delinquent actions, and they hold at least some mainstream values. Nevertheless, they still commit crime because they believe it is justified. Neutralization is defined as a technique, which allows the person to rationalize or justify a criminal act. There are five techniques of neutralization; denial of responsibility, denial of injury, denial of victim, condemnation of the condemners, and the appeal to higher loyalties. To explain one of these, denial of injury is the belief that the crime was justified because no one was really hurt, for example, stealing from those who could afford it.

Matza also argues that delinquent behaviour is often directed by subterranean values which are found throughout society. These underground values,’ are only expressed in particular situations. They include an emphasis on excitement and toughness. In mainstream they may be expressed through competitive sports, for example on the football field. But, delinquents may express their underground values in a criminal way.
Subcultural theory suggests that many young males are committed to a distinctive subculture and a deviant lifestyle. Matza is against this view. He argues that many men drift in and out of delinquency. Their delinquent acts are casual and intermittent rather than a way of life. This seems to tie in well with the fact that most young people stop committing deviant acts as they get older. In general Matza sees the delinquent as being little different to other young people.
Matza’s theories are good in that they answer the criticisms of subcultural theory. Delinquents are no longer seen as prisoners of the social system directed by their position in the social structure. Also, according to Downes and Rock, (2003) Matza’s view describes the criminal behaviour of many young men in Britain. The most frequent reason they give for their delinquency is boredom; and delinquency offers plenty of opportunity for risk and excitement to relieve boredom.

In conclusion, I would say that I am more convinced by the Marxist perspective in general than the functionalist one. Marxist says that it class struggle that leads to crime. This approach is successful in explaining many of the crimes committed by the working classes. For example someone who is working class who feels oppressed by the capitalist system may try to steal the car of someone who is wealthier or break into their house. They may even commit non-utilitarian crimes such as vandalism as an expression of their frustration at the system.

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