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May 9, 2018 / C H Thompson

Subcultural theories of crime – revision notes with evaluative points

Functional subcultures -> Cloward and Ohlin

Cloward and Ohlin (1960) developed on Merton and Cohen by also looking into working class delinquent subcultures.

They recognised that different subcultures respond in different ways to being unable to achieve mainstream goals. They identified three types of delinquent subcultures that arise in response to try and achieve goals:

  • Criminal subcultures -> these are established and organised criminal networks that are largely concerned with utilitarian (useful) crimes and tend to develop where an illegitimate opportunity structure is present.
  • Conflict subcultures -> develop in areas with limited or no access to illegitimate opportunity structures, and usually involve gang crime such as mugging and violent acts.
  • Retreatist subcultures -> include those who have failed to achieve through both the legitimate and illegitimate subcultures and often turn to drug abuse and alcoholism.

Evaluation of Cloward and Ohlin  

(+) Presents an insight into why working class delinquency may take different forms in different social circumstances.

(+) They provide an explanation behind the different types of working class deviance.

(-) They exaggerate the differences between the three types of subcultures and fail to see that some of the subcultures overlap. For example, utilitarian crime features in all three subcultures


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