Subculture: Descriptions, Features, Values

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Subculture is a group of people in a society who share the same value, moral and norms that are distinctive from those mainstreams, who are held by a group within a wider society. A subculture can be categorized into many groups such as; nationality, religion, race, age, occupation, social class and geographic region. Within these categories, typically cultural groups with the most power and social influence get labelled ‘the norm’ and people with less power in the society get relegated to ‘sub groups’. Many sociologists such as, Merton, Cloward, Ohlin and Cohen have studied to outline the features and links between subculture, delinquent crime, social crime, mainstream, strain theory and deviance to try and determine whether those involved are more likely to commit criminal behaviour. Unlike Marxist who think otherwise into the subculture theories.

The main outlined features of subcultural theories are, values, characteristics, working class and lower-class norms and sub groups. There has been evidence to show the weakness and strengths into subculture of societies outlooks and beliefs, into what they believe is morally right as a social class. The weakness of subculture and theoretic findings is Albert K Cohen (1971) who is known for his subculture theory of delinquent urban gangs. Delinquent subculture theory emerged from the work of the Chicago school in the 1920s on gangs and developed through representational relations through school into a set of theories arguing that certain societies subcultures have beneficial values and attitudes to crime and violence. Alberts point about the weakness in subculture is that “working-class youths cannot achieve mainstream goals by rightful means” (Albert K Cohen, 1971). This is due to being culturally deprived, which leads to status frustration. But Cohen disagrees to a certain point that this is just an individual response to strain. He believes that they “resolve their status frustration by rejecting middle class value and forming a subculture of others in the same position” (Albert K Cohen, 1971). They do this by failing at school, whereby they then cannot get a good job and be economically successful. This gives them alternative status where the hierarchy comes into place where they can win status through delinquent actions.

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Robert Merton (1938) agrees with Cohens theory of Subculture and highlights that “there is a strain between the cultural goals of a society” (Merton 1938). He believes that people on the bottom of the ladder find it hardest to succeed, therefore they are the ones who are most likely to seek alternative routes to success such as committing a crime. Merton blames crime on the social structure of society with goals that are unachievable to some groups such as the working class. Merton points out that “crime is just caused by a desire to adapt to the rest of society” (Merton 1938). An example that Merton proved the strain theory was a study on the American dream in 1931, which shows the genuine means to achieve these goals. Merton concluded, is not without important social consequences but It “produces intense pressure for deviation”, which shows the deviance that takes place within society. Cloward and Ohlin’s views are similar to Cohen and Merton where, crime is seen as a “natural part of society and that mainstream values actually create crime”. (Richard Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin 1960) believed that “for the world to be successful, society should only educate the most talented people of every generation”. Cloward and Ohln agree with Merton that working-class youths face blocked opportunities, but they note that everyone adapts to strain in the same way. For example, some subcultures adopt violence or drugs use rather than utilitarian crime. They argue that this is because “different individuals have access to different unlawful opportunity structures” (Cloward and Llyod 1960). They also blame crime on how society is structured around the shared goal of economic success as this puts a lot of pressure on working class people. This is because they suggest parallel set of illegitimate “opportunity structures develop where legitimate ones do not exist” (Cloward and Ohlin, 1960). Conversely, Subculture and strain theory can be criticised because they assume that “deviant behaviour is the result of a failure to achieve mainstream goals”.

Although, Walter Miller (1962) argues that “deviant youths actually never share these goals, instead they have their own set of norms, values and goals known as the focal concern” (Walter Miller, 1962). This is where Lower class youths are socialised into having a set of values including toughness and excitement, where they gain status within their peer groups though delinquent behaviour. Merton was also criticised by this where everyone will not have the same goals and points out that it doesn’t explain other crimes such as rape and domestic violence. On the other hand, Marxist thinks otherwise and disagrees with; Albert K Cohen, Merton, Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin by having alternative views of subculture. Marxist see subculture as a strength, a form of managing mechanism in response to inequality caused by oppression from the ruling class. Marxist perspective on crime and deviance is capitalism inequalities which lead to conflict and lead to people committing crimes. The Marxist control the working-class, laws and health and safety laws. They believe they should keep the working class working which is where capitalist come from. The economy shapes society into working class, middle class and lower class. They make it through religion, politics, belief’s and much more. Subculture each have their own style which is their own individual response to the oppression they feel. Right radicals see delinquent subcultures as a “result of an underclass who fail to socialise their children properly and so they grow up refusing mainstream norms and values”. They blame this provocation on the decline of the nuclear family, and the refusal of single- parents to work, instead to depend on the welfare state.

Subculturalists suggest that crime is because of a different set of norms and values distinct to criminals. To conclude, subculture theories critically outlined and explained the deviance, delinquent crime, social crime, mainstream, strain theory and deviance. Where theoretic Merton, Cohen, Cloward and Llyod determined whether those involved are more likely to commit criminal behaviour. The weaknesses of subculture still outweigh the strengths of subculture in Marxist outlooks. Central theories and indicators of the subculture show and get labelled as the working class do commit more crimes in total. However as mentioned about working class being deviant if society and the government were to come together, they can help the working class become unblocked with opportunities then it will decrease and prevent deviance within the working-class society. Also, if laws were to help the delinquent groups who are seen as a way for lower class members to gain status that they cannot achieve rightfully so, by providing them with legitimate means and opportunities to get them out of crime and trouble. Therefore, subculture has many strengths and weakness points and examples but more weakness of theories to backed up to explain the subculture working class, lower class and upper class.  

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