Question

Upon the text’s discussion of Albert Cohen’s theory of delinquent subcultures. For example, consider reviewing the...

Upon the text’s discussion of Albert Cohen’s theory of delinquent subcultures. For example, consider reviewing the three existing subcultures that he suggests most lower-class boys who fail to meet middle-class standards usually join: the corner boy, the college boy, and the delinquent boy. What do you think of the strengths of this theory comparing with Merton's theory?

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Answer #1
  • Whereas Merton focused on crime as an individual response Cohen (1971) build on Merton’s work, but he focused on the position of groups in the social structure and how these groups adapt in different ways to the strain they face when in achieving social goals. Cohen's theory deals with juvenile delinquency, crime committed by those under the age of 17, as these young people constitute the largest group of criminals and deviants.  
  • Cohen argues that working-class youths feel they are denied status in mainstream society, and they experience status frustration. This is due to them accepting and believing in society’s success goals, but because of failed education, living in deprived areas and limited job opportunities they feel they have little chance to realize these goals by approved means.
  • Instead they develop an alternative distinctive set of values- a delinquent subculture. They replace accepted means of behavior, for instance stealing cars becomes hard work, and instead stride to achieve status and respect from peers that they are denied in wider society.
  • Cohen identifies elements of revenge in this subculture as a way to get back at society for denying them the mainstream goals, and this revenge element explains why a lot of juvenile crime is not motivated by financial gain. Offences such as joy-riding, vandalism and fighting are more motivated by wanting peer acceptance and respect and as a way of getting back at society.
  • This subcultural theory is valued in that unlike Merton who looks at the individual responses to legitimate structures being blocked, Cohen explains why specifically working class groups are turning to crime and deviance. Merton’s use of the individual is not useful when we want to understand why working class specifically commit more crime than most. Therefore this is a strength of Cohen’s subcultural theory as it explains the already existing official statistics.
  • Applying Merton's idea that there are strains upon members of society to achieve success, Cohen produced a more refined version of strain theory. Cohen offered a more detailed analysis of 'culture'.
  • Rather than the more generalised cultural values depicted by Merton, Cohen identified what he saw as the principles that underlined a 'dominant' culture. That there exists a dominant culture implies that there exist other cultures or what Cohen referred to as subcultures. Thus in contrast to Merton's suggestion that society is monocultural, one where members of society subscribed to the same values, Cohen accounted for the existence of different cultural values.
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