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Albert K Cohen

Subcultural Theory and Delinquent Boys

Rachel Gracie

on 14 November 2014

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Transcript of Albert K Cohen

Subcultural Theory and Delinquent Boys
Cohen built upon Merton's work on subcultural theories.
Cohen wanted to answer the questions he felt Merton had left out:
• Why so much delinquency takes place in gangs/groups
• Why there is so much delinquency amongst lower working class young males
• Why so much delinquency appears to be violent, malicious or apparently without benefit to the offender

Subcultural Theory
Cohen believed that the American dream is dominated by middle class values.
Middle class boys were 'programmed' to want to reach these goals so were therefore in a better position to achieve them.
Basic theory
constructive use of leisure
development of skills
individual responsibility
delaying of immediate reward for long term benefit
Constitutes what Cohen
described as
the 'middle class
measuring rod'.



• Merton's theory suggests that delinquency occurs individually;
• although Merton thought that delinquent behavior could be found anywhere regardless of class but Cohen thought that lower working class young males were much more likely to be deviant.
• Merton tends to suggest that acts of delinquency are committed because of greed.

Differences between Merton and Cohen
"Most boys who have been socialised in lower-class families are inadequately prepared to perform successfully in a middle-class setting...They are less likely to have grown up in an educationally stimulating environment and are thus more likely to have restricted aspiration."
Jones (2006: 179) writes:

Albert K Cohen
Cohen was born on June 15, 1918. He went to Harvard in 1935. He then went on to Indiana University to begin a graduate degree, under the direction of Edwin H. Sutherland. He received his master's degree in 1942 and returned to Harvard for his Ph.D. Cohen's first lecturing job was in Indiana University. He then moved to the University of Connecticut.

He has been very influential in both the field of sociology and criminology.
Cohen also pointed out many forms of deviance did not have much, if anything to do with self-advancement or gaining material wealth.

This is why Cohen looked for an explanation for these sorts of crimes. He came to realise that there were underlying 'dominant' cultures. He saw that rather than Merton's idea of everyone subscribing to one mainstream value that in one society people can have different values and cultures.

He concluded that these subcultures exist as a response to the mainstream views and values.
Cohen (1955) writes:
"In the status game, then, the working-class child starts out with a handicap and, to the extent that he cares what the middle-class persons think of him or has internalised the dominant middle-class attitudes toward social class position, he may be expected to feel some 'shame'. "

Lilly, Cullen and Ball (2002)
"Lower-class youths, thrown together in high density urban neighborhoods and saddled with a common problem, find a common solution in embracing values that provide both the chance to gain status and the psychic satisfaction of rejecting respectable values that lie beyond their reach."
Full transcript