Study Notes

Miller: Focal Concerns (1958)

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Last updated 31 Aug 2020

Miller suggested that working-class boys were socialised into a number of distinct values that together meant they were more likely than others to engage in delinquent or deviant behaviour. Miller described these values as "focal concerns".

Miller: Focal Concerns (1958)

None of these values on their own mean that crime is inevitable (many "lower-class boys" are also socialised with these focal concerns and stay out of trouble) but they do make crime more likely. Seeking excitement might lead to non-utilitarian crime; toughness, smartness and trouble might result in fighting. Autonomy might lead people to take matters into their own hands rather than asking for help; fatalism might mean that they do not consider the consequences of their actions as the future is already written.

Evaluating Miller

Although subsequent sociologists have found evidence of some of Miller's focal concerns in working-class communities, it is not clear that what Miller refers to as the "lower class" really does have such distinct norms and values from the rest of society. Indeed, the argument that they might rather contradicts the classic functionalist idea that the various institutions in society ensure social solidarity and value consensus.

Again, Miller just talks about boys without really considering gender. Some feminist critics have pointed out that these focal concerns might be masculine values rather than lower-class ones! However, an alternative view is that many of these "concerns" are also those of working-class girls, and therefore might be features of "lower-class" values or indeed of youth in general. Indeed, as suggested by David Matza, perhaps we all share such "deviant" values but learn not to act on them.

Subcultural Theories of Crime & Deviance - Walter Miller | A Level Sociology

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