Study Notes

Matza: Subterranean Values and "Drift" (1964)

AS, A-Level, IB
AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB, Eduqas, WJEC

Last updated 10 Sept 2020

Matza presents an interesting functionalist alternative to subcultural theories where he suggests that, in fact, we all share the "delinquent" values that lead some people to criminal and deviant behaviour but that most of us, most of the time, are able to keep them suppressed. This is a learned skill, however, so we are more likely to commit crime or engage in deviant behaviour when we are young and less so as we age. As such people are neither conformist nor deviant; instead, people are able to "drift" between both throughout their life.

Matza suggests that the proof for the existence of these subterranean ("underground") values comes from the fact that people seek to "neutralise" their deviant acts. If people really had a different set of values when they behaved deviantly, they would believe their deviant behaviour was appropriate/correct. However, people quickly seek ways to justify their behaviour or question their responsibility in terms of mainstream values. Therefore, according to Matza, they must understand and share those values. He suggests that people use a number of techniques of neutralisation.

Evaluating Matza

These "techniques of neutralisation" have the appearance of excuses; they could simply be used in an attempt to avoid censure or punishment, rather than to “drift” back into mainstream values. A criminal can be aware of what most consider unacceptable without sharing that belief.

Others have pointed out that some of these "techniques of neutralisation" may be deviant values. The belief that victims are partly responsible for their victimhood, or that higher loyalties justify crimes might well be examples of the deviant norms and values of a criminal subculture.

However, Matza is correct that many people may be delinquents when they are young and then go on to lead respectable lives as adults, for example, as bank managers or politicians. In such cases, it is not that they have been socialised into a different, minority set of norms and values. Their ability to conform to mainstream values when they mature and take on responsibilities shows that they were as socialised into the value consensus as those who did not participate in deviant behaviour in their youth.

Theories of Crime & Deviance - Matza | A Level Sociology

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