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May 9, 2018 / C H Thompson

Subcultural theories of crime – revision notes with evaluative points

Functional subcultures -> Albert Cohen

 Cohen (1955) expanded on Merton’s theory by developing a subcultural viewpoint focusing on groups of society rather than the individuals.

Cohen focused on status frustration and delinquent subculture by focusing on how different groups adapt to the strain and they face in achieving social goals, which he called status frustration. He carried this out by researching working class delinquents.

  • Cohen concluded that the working class youth do believe in the mainstream goals but are unable to achieve these goals due to their little opportunity of going through the achieved means.
  • This is due to factors such as failure in education, poor living conditions etc. and facing anomie in the middle-class dominated education system.
  • The inability to succeed results in feeling denied status and therefore they experience status frustration.
  • They then develop an alternative set of values to overcome this frustration-> a delinquent subculture.
  • This alternative hierarchy allows status and respect to be gained within this subculture.

Evaluation of Cohen

(+) He helps explain crime and deviance in terms of a group response rather than the focus being on individuals.

(+) This theory offers an explanation for non-utilitarian crimes.

(-) He assumes the working class accept mainstream values as desirable.

(-) Miller argues that it’s wrong to suggest the working class accept mainstream values, as maybe they just have their own culture with its own values and goals -> their acts of crime and deviance aren’t a rebellion, they’ve just always had their own culture.

(-) However Matza says that many are committed to the mainstream values of society (discussed in more depth later on)


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