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Functionalist, strain and subcultural theories.
 Brain storm a list of crimes;
Any positive functions for society?
Subcultural theories
 A.K Cohen
Functionalist theory
 Miller
Strain theory
 Cloward & Ohlin
Subcultural Strain Theory
provide an
structure for
those who are
denied the
Subcultural strain
theories see
deviance as the
product of a
subculture with
different values to
those of mainstream
Focus mainly
on working
Cohen (1955)
 Cohen agrees with Merton that deviance is a lower class
phenomenon but criticises Merton’s explanation on 2 grounds:
1. Merton sees deviance as an individual response to strain
thus ignoring that deviance is committed in or by groups,
Merton focuses on utilitarian crime committed for material
gain, such as theft or fraud but largely ignores crimes such as
assault and vandalism which might have more of an
economic motive.
 The Education system “labels” those who do not achieve the
cultural goals as failures.
 Young people have a “looking glass self” - they internalise the
feelings of inferiority and failure, “repressing” those feelings
into their unconscious - leading to a “reaction formation”.
 All people, particularly young people seek status in their own
eyes and in the eyes of others, particularly significant others.
 Denied status through the official status channels, Cohen
argued they will established subcultures where they can
achieve status through alternative status channels.
Cohen : Deviance and Class
 Cohen believes that working class boys in particular face
anomie within the middle class dominated school system.
They suffer from cultural deprivation and lack the skills to
 As a result of not being able to achieve status through
legitimate means (education), the boys suffer with status
frustration. Meaning they face a problem of adjustment
to the low status they are given by mainstream society.
Middle class
Speak well
Dress Smartly
Know Classical
 The delinquent gang can be one such alternative status
 The delinquent gang may now turn the values of the school
and the education system on its head. What is good in the
teachers’ eyes becomes bad in their eyes, and what is bad in
the teachers’ eyes become good in their eyes.
 This is a “reactive” subculture which overturns the dominant
middle class values of the school and wider society.
 Even though outwardly the gang rejects the norms and values
of the dominant middle class culture, they have internalised it
from birth.
Can you think of
examples of cultural
deprivation which can
affect working class
boys achievement in
education ?
Can you think of
examples of what
working class boys
suffering from status
frustration might do in
order to enhance their
lack of status?
 Repressed into the unconscious these feelings of inferiority
and failure boil away. This leads to a “reaction formation”.
 The repressed feelings of inferiority are expressed through
peculiarly malicious and violent acts.
 Violent and destructive acts that serve no rational purpose
may be explained this way.
Criticisms of Cohen
 No mention of females.
 These individuals would need to be great sociologists to
work out what middle class values are and invert them.
 Cohen fails to prove that school really is the key place
where success and failure are demonstrated.
Discussion Points
 What are two key strengths of Cohen’s approach
to Crime and Deviance?
 What are two key weaknesses?
 Can this theory help us to understand
contemporary forms of crime and deviance such
as “Happy Slapping”?
 On a scale of 1 – 10 how do you rate this theory?
Read through the text
 Cloward and Ohlin : three subcultures
 Cohen
 In pairs write 10 questions relating to the theory you are
At least 4 must use these words
Describe, outline, explain..... – you can decide the marks
available but must include them next to the question
 Swap questions with another pair and answer the
questions thy have given
 Swap back and mark their answers
Key terminology