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Structuralist theories of crime and deviance sample essay

All Structuralist theories of crime and deviance seem to suggest that crime is socially constructed rather than focused on the individual.

Albert Cohen, combining Structuralist and sub cultural theories drew on Merton’s idea of strain but criticized Merton’s ideas of crime being an individual response and believed that he ignored non-utilitarian crimes such as vandalism and joy-riding. Cohen was particularly interested in deviance which was not economically motivated but done simply for the thrill of the act.

Cohen believed that many ‘lower-class’ boys aspired to the values of ‘middle-class’ society but lacked the means to obtain anysuch success, thus leading to status frustration. Therefore many reject the rules of acceptable norms and behaviour as they cannot be successful within those rules. They turn to a delinquent subculture, where there are alternative norms and values and through committing crime status can be gained.

Box, however, argues that Cohen’s theory only applies to the minority. Most he believes accept mainstream values although feeling resentful of being seen as failures.

Cloward and Ohlin were also greatly influenced by Merton and accepted his explanation of deviance in terms of the legitimate oppurtunity structure. However they also explored a parallel, the illegitimate oppurtunity structure. They realised that within certain subcultures it was possible to make a career out of crime, which allowed criminals to obtain mainstream societies goals. According to Cloward and Ohlin there were three possible categories.

Firstly a criminal subculture, where there is oppurtunity to become involved in a thriving world of crime, where there are successful role models who have used crime as a means to succeed, and youngsters who can ‘work their way up the ladder’ in the criminal hierarchy. Where there is no local criminal subculture, conflict subculture can emerge. This is when there is no access to the legitimate or illegitemate means of success and anger and frustration is vented through violence, usually to other groups of similar status.

Finally Cloward and Ohlin thought there was the retreatist subculture which was centered mainly on illegal drug use and alcohol. This occured as members often failed to fit into the other two subcultures.

Cloward and Ohlins theory has faced some criticism. Similarly to Cohen they failed to mention female delinquancy. It is also difficult to believe that all criminals and deviants fit into three neat categories.

Taylor, Walton and Young criticize both Cohen’s and Cloward and Ohlin’s assumption that everyone is asspiring to achieve wealth. They point out that there are certain groups in society such as ‘Hippies’ that make conscious decisions to reject such conventions.

In the 1950’s Miller developed a rather different approach. He suggested that deviancywas linked to the lowerclass males who had their own distinctive values whic had been passed on from generation to generation. These values, he believed, actually encouraged criminal behaviour. He identified various ‘focal concerns’ of the lower class male, such as, toughness- a respect for courage, smartness- the ability to outsmart others and excitment- the search for thrills. Miller believed that delinquencywasd a result of conformity to these ‘focal concerns.’

Gill’s study supports Miller in that he discovered some residants of a working class area did not believe it was wrong to commit some crimes, suchaas stealing from an unoccupied house. Other sociologists however such as Braithwaite, argue against Miller’s theory, believing that crimes that involved causing direct harm to somebody are seen as wrong by all classes in our society.

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