of Deviance: Classic Subcultural Theories
These theorists also saw deviancy
as primarily a sociological matter, explaining different variations within
a culture/social framework - as a kind of examination of problems surrounding
individuality. This is one early attempt to pursue an account based on Merton's
functionalism which explains deviancy - and lots else - as a result of permanent
disjunction between culture and structure in modern societies. This approach
faces similar theoretical problems - deviancy as a way of life to be explained
(see Downes and Rock 1988).
The background lies in social
policy again, in the US context. It was clear that youth, juvenile
delinquency, in US cities at least had become a definite way of life.
Such youths were not anomic as such, lacking cultural norms, but had a culture
of their own. Deviancy was still seen as a normal response - but it
arose because youths were fully socialised into a deviant sub-culture.
In many ways, this goes against Merton's work on
anomie. There was a different emphasis to Merton, an intention to explain
juvenile delinquency rather than professional crime -- and this led to seeing
juvenile delinquency NOT as a result of people sharing the goals of the
wider culture while lacking the institutional means to achieve them.
Indeed delinquent goals were the very opposite of shared ‘normal’ goals,
an inversion of official values -- hence Cohen's famed characterisation of
the values of juvenile delinquency subculture as negative, malicious, fun-oriented,
random. In other ways, though, as Downes (1966) argues very neatly,
Cohen and Cloward and Ohlin are still linked to Merton and notions of dominant
(a) They still see such
deviancy as response to "strain" - a peculiar response to be sure, one not
predicted necessarily by Merton
(b) Subculture itself is actually
a tricky notion which implies all sorts of arguments about cultures
too - subcultures operate against background of aspects of mainstream culture.
Juvenile culture is mediated through parental culture (largely a class matter
for Cohen), and some aspects of this parental culture were preserved (e.g.
toughness, street-wisdom), while others were negated, inverted, reversed
- an element of choice. (Why and how all this happens is an issue leading
to a Marxist variant too -- the 'double articulation' of youth and class in
Hall and Jefferson 1976). The ‘classic’ variants here are NOT really
so very far away from Merton and functionalism, for Downes. Finally,
Downes notes, subcultures vary according to the tightness of boundary around
the group - Cohen and Cloward and Ohlin were largely interested in gangs
with tight structure, like fighting gangs of New York, while others have
used the term ‘subculture’ to refer to much looser groups, recreational, occupational,
semi-deviant ones, as we'll see (eg in CCCS work).
Cohen and Cloward and Ohlin compared
-- from Downes (1966)
Cloward and Ohlin
as a 'way of life', a 'parent subculture with variant sub-subcultures
3 distinct delinquent
subcultures -- retreatist, conflict and criminal. Virtually the same
as Cohen's 'variants'
from middle-class standards applied to the working class. Results in 'status-frustration'
( hence characteristics of negativity, maliciousness etc)
Anomie as in Merton produces
'differential opportunities' for BOTH legitimate and illegitimate means (not
everyone is accepted into criminal or conflict subcultures, for example)
delinquents' response to dominant culture
Alienation prevents guilt
-- instead, social order and a perception of its hypocrisy are blamed
(i) Delinquent subcultures are largely
a feature of working-class male urban adolescents (in American terms, of course).
(ii) There are delinquent norms and
values etc. to which members of subcultures are committed.
(iii) There are non-deliquent subcultural
alternatives - e.g. for working class kids 'college-boy' and 'stable corner-boy'
(iv) Official statistics can
be used as reliable indicators of delinquency -- (both argue why this is so)
(v) Both operate with loose definitions
of 'culture', 'sub-culture' and 'contra-culture').
1. Cohen says the parent subculture
is a working class one (based on earlier work by Miller etc who argued delinquency
as nothing but working class values). Cohen says some values are retained,
e.g. short term hedonism, but others are inverted e.g. altrusism etc.
This gives three sub-variants - conflict, addiction, professional theft and
many other "near-groups". Cloward’s and Ohlin’s variants are structured according
to available opportunities for criminal development. This structure of opportunities
is itself a product of neighbourhood organisation etc. - available
opportunities for professional theft lead to criminal variants, other social
opportunities lead to conflict variants etc. Those who are doubly rejected
or doubly denied (both normal and deviant opportunities), become retreatists.
2. The formative mechanisms are
- ‘Status strain’ is the main one
for Cohen: his version is very like Merton's only about the compromised status
of youths specifically, with less emphasis on the (lack of ) monetary
success which strains adults. School values are especially important because
status is tied to education for US kids especially. Cohen develops an early
closure theory - schools take in all pupils, but measure them using a ‘middle
class measuring rod’. This leads to frustration and a defensive reaction
- For Cloward and Ohlin, official
status is NOT necessarily desired by all youths. Some have their own types
of working class aspirations including just acquiring money - an instrumentalism
(perhaps like British affluent workers or Willis's
lads?). This type of aspiration leads to alienation from school and this
can turn into despair when youths come to leave school and experience the
frustration of the job market -- delinquent solutions can then become available.
Finally, for Cloward and Ohlin subcultures are also NOT needed to assuage
guilt - instead they suggest that deviants cope via what looks rather like
the symbolic interactionist concept of ‘career’ ( or what Matza was to call
'drift') -- undergoing a gradual severance of ties with straight society
and a gradual absorption into subculture. This process is often aided by
the obvious social hypocrisy of normal society.
Downes D (1966) The Delinquent
Solution; a study in subcultural theory, London