Study Notes

Classic Sociology Texts: Albert Cohen "Delinquent Boys" (1955)

GCSE, A-Level

Last updated 29 Oct 2020

This functionalist study explores why working-class boys join delinquent subcultures and, as a result, are more likely to commit crimes. #soccd

Subcultural Theories of Crime & Deviance - Albert Cohen

As a functionalist, Cohen thinks that everyone learns the same values and goals through socialisation, part of creating a value consensus. In that way, working-class boys have the same life goals as middle-class boys. However, Cohen notes that working-class boys are much less likely to achieve at school than middle-class children. For Cohen this is down to cultural deprivation - working-class attitudes to school and education - rather than a structural issue relating to capitalism or material deprivation.

Because pupils don't get the status they crave, they instead form delinquent subcultures. A subculture is a group with its own norms and values, separate from those of mainstream society. For Cohen, it was not that the members had not been socialised into mainstream values - they had - but to gain status they turned them on their head. So things that would be viewed as bad in mainstream society - like vandalism and truancy - are viewed as good within the subculture. In some ways this is similar to Paul Willis' study of "the lads" (even though he was coming from a Marxist perspective, rather than a functionalist one).

Cohen's theory is often referred to as status frustration and is used to explain why young working-class males are more likely to commit crimes than other people, why they do it in groups, and why it includes crimes that does not materially benefit them (i.e. why they might commit vandalism or fight). It was inspired by Merton's strain theory but developed it further to explain crime by groups.

Critics suggest that members of delinquent subcultures may have been socialised into deviant values, rather than sharing the same values and goals as everyone else. Others question why Cohen only focused on boys. Marxist critics criticise Cohen for ignoring the causes of social class inequality.

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