Criminology: Delinquency and opportunity - Cloward and Ohlin
Cloward and Ohlin developed many of the ideas of Merton and Cohen. However, they criticised Merton for not explaining the reasons behind different types of criminal behaviour, although they did accept his theory on working class deviance.
The basis of their theory is that just as the opportunity to be successful by legitimate means varies, so too does the opportunity to be successful by illegitimate means. In other words, different, illegitimate opportunities available to potential delinquents will produce different types of crimes. For example, a particular area might have an existing criminal subculture which would provide the young delinquent with access to a criminal environment. In another area, where no such criminal culture existe, the young delinquent would resort to another type of criminal behaviour.
Like Merton, Cloward and Ohlin agree that members of the working-class are more likely to deviate because they have fewer opportunities to achieve success by legitimate means. However, they then developed three possible responses to this problem of impasse.
The delinquent's behaviour could be characterised in three ways depending on whether they gain access to a criminal subculture or not, and their performance within it. The three categories were: criminal subculture; conflict subculture and retreatist subculture.
1. Criminal subculture
In this situation, the young delinquent has access to a criminal subculture. Such subcultures emerge in areas where there is already an organised, adult criminal community. The young delinquent learns from the established, adult criminals who are role models for him. If successful, they rise up the professional criminal hierarchy. Criminal subcultures are in the main involved in utilitarian crime; that is crime with a financial reward.
2. Conflict subculture
Here, conflict subculture develops in areas where there is little opportunity to gain access to a criminal subculture. As such, there is no real opportunity to acquire role models and criminal skills. These areas have a transient population and no 'community spirit'. With no opportunity to achieve success either by lawful or unlawful means, the reponse is often gang violence as a release for anger and frustration.
3. Retreatist subculture
In this situation, faced with failure to achieve success either by lawful or unlawful means (a double failure), some working-class youths will develop a retreatist subculture. Such a subculture will often revolve around drugs.
Lower-class subculture: Walter B. Miller
Miller explained crime in terms of a distinctive lower-class subculture. He believed that Americans in the lower-class social bracket had developed a subculture which had its own values and traditions separate from those in a higher social bracket. These values and way of life were passed on from generation to generation. The values inherent in the lower-class culture actively encouraged lower-class men to commit crime.
This subculture had a range of interests and characteristics of its own which included an appreciation of toughness, smartness and excitement.
This is an expression of masculinity and rejects timidity and weakness. Its manifestation can lead to violence in order to maintain a reputation for toughness.
Such a quality emphasises the ability to outsmart or ‘con’ another person. The kind of examples would be conmen and petty thieves.
Here the person is searching for emotional stimulus and excitement. Excitement is found in gambling, sexual adventures and alcohol. All these activities can be obtained during a night out on the town.
The desire to be tough and smart and to seek excitement, carries risk. The result can be physical harm and disruption to one’s life.
With specific regard to adolescents in lower-class subculture, such activities and focal concerns are particularly exaggerated because the generally belong to a peer group which demands conformity to group norms. In addition, adolescents are especially concerned about status which is achieved via peer group norms. In other words, status here will derive from being tough and smart in the eyes of peers.
Miller’s view on delinquency and focal concerns
Miller believed that delinquency was essentially about the acting out of the focal concerns of lower-class subculture (toughness, smartness etc.) Its roots lay in the socialisation into a subculture with ‘a distinctive tradition, many centuries old with an integrity of its own’.
Such a subculture has a life of its own.The reason for its existence is due to a need for a pool of low-skilled labour. These kind of workers have to be able to tolerate routine, repetitive work as well as periods of unemployment. Lower-class suculture, with its emphasis on excitement and risk-taking activities, allows these workers to endure the monotony of their work. The activities of the subculture relieve them from the boredom of their working lives.
3. Can you give any examples of situations which would show that the two groups hold different values?