Structural Theories

Motives are believed to be the reason behind the action of people. Whether negative or positive, they are the cause of an individual’s action. Since motives help us better recognize why a person would do something, a lot of research has been committed to understanding the pattern of people or group of peoples motives. Knowledge of patterns is crucial to many aspects of human behavior but especially those relating to crime. Knowing a pattern helps one to predict, and hopefully help educate others on future crimes. The research of crime is so extensive that researchers have created not only theories but also various subculture theories of crime. Subculture theory of crime is a set of theories arguing that certain groups or subcultures in society have values and attitudes that are conducive to crime and violence. Subcultural theories of Cloward and Ohlin, Wolfgang and Feracuti, Elijah Anderson, and Walter Miller offer a great deal of insight on why different groups of people choose to engage in the crimes that they participate in.

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Although these theories are broad and shed light on what certain groups will attribute to crime, it is not an exact science. A lot of these theories come along with critiques that question the basic points the researchers are trying to prove. Cloward and Ohlin theorized illegitimate opportunity structures, which argues that in order for someone to obtain and take advantage of the most rewarding illegitimate opportunities, aspiring delinquents often need an “in”. Within the illegitimate opportunity structure there are different subcultures and cub cultures. Cloward and Ohlin go on to split people into different subcultures of criminals who do not have an “in”. The subcultures of the criminal structure that are offered are Conflict subculture, conflict gang, retreatist gang, and retreatist cub culture. Those who fit in Conflict subculture turn their frustration at failure in both the legitimate and illegitimate opportunity structures into violence and those that are in gangs aim to make money through a variety of illegitimate avenues. While conflict gangs engage in violent activities, doing whatever is necessary to maintain their status in the streets and
finally retreatist gangs are considered “double-failures” no success in either legitimate or illegitimate opportunities turn to drugs. Some critiques to Cloward and Ohlin have been that they fail to realize that the different subcultures can overlap. For example, gangs involved in conflict subculture often deal in and use drugs, and make large sums of money in the process.

Unlike Cloward, Ohlin, Wolfgang and Feracuti, Walter Miller argued that crime is simply an extension of normal working class values, not a distinctive set of alternative values. Miller argued that the lower classes create their different value system as a response to the monotony of working –class jobs and a life of poverty. Working-class subculture is a mechanism full of processes, which allow working-class people to cope with their situations. He termed this focal concern. These focal concerns are fate, autonomy, trouble, excitement, smartness, and toughness. Due to the fact that these characteristics can be distributed throughout society, Walter Millers theory is thought to be too fixated on working class values. His theory also has too much of a focus on boys.

Wolfgang and Feracuti argue the subculture of violence; they believe that violence is a product of conformity to a pro-violent subculture that is in direct conflict with the dominant culture. They suggest that violent reactions to perceived threats to reputation or honor are culturally prescribed, given that a failure to react defensively may result in life-threatening consequences. These researchers even go on to apply this theory outside of disadvantaged neighborhoods, such as the American south, athletes, and postal workers. Still critiques feel as though Wolfgang and Feratuci infer the existence of subcultures of violence based on statistical indicators of high rates of violence in poor racialized neighborhoods. Another important critique is that not everyone follows the values and norms of violence. This critique was then explored in Anderson’s study. He revealed “street” and “decent” value orientations among families in Philadelphia neighborhood.

In Elijah Anderson’s “code of the street” he proposes that the high rates of violence amongst inner-city residents can be attributed to a “code of the streets.” This code, he notes, functions as a “set of informal rules governing interpersonal public behavior” that encourages the use of violence for the purposes of maintaining honor and defending reputation. Just like Cloward and Ohlin’s Conflict gang subculture and Wolfgang and Fercuti’s subculture of violence, Anderson believes that crime occurred in certain neighborhoods in order to maintain status and respect. However new improvements on this contemporary theory were added when Anderson included the variations of families that lived within this pro-violent culture. He concluded that while both contingents experience the hardships of race and class oppression, “rather than dwelling on the hardships and inequities facing them,” Anderson argues, “civil” individuals tend to “accept mainstream values more fully than “street families” and make the best of what they have (Anderson, 1999: 38). Although this theory goes on to prove that not everyone in a pro-violent environment upholds the same values, it fails to clarify the specific processes that had led the residents of Germantown Avenue’s inner city to embrace pro-violent values and attitudes.

Subcultural theories do not adequately explain racial disparities in crime. All these theories have a focus on African-Americans in impoverish areas. The subcultural theories offered also have a concentration on street crime. No theory seems to offer reason as to why the elite commit white-collar crimes. Furthermore these various subcultures that focus on pro-violent cultures do not give insight on how the pro-violent cultures came to be in the first place.

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