Assess the principles, strengths and weaknesses of theories concerning Subcultures Essay

In any society, there are always those who differ from that which are held to be the commonly accepted values. These groups will often find themselves isolated in a common community, with shared values and belief systems. However, these groups can often be seen as a source of fear ands hatred by the community at large, and often become seen as the root of social problems. Among sociologists, there have been several trends of thought to explain how these “subcultures” affect the world of common crime. Many sociologists hold that subcultures emerge as a result of problems which are not faced by the larger society as a whole.

These problems may result in the people contained within a certain subculture to act in a way that does not conform to the traditional views of beliefs of the larger society as a whole. This view of subcultures is often referred to as the “Strain” theory, and is supported by several sociologists, the most notable of whom is Robert Merton. Adapting the ideas of Durkheim, Merton’s ideas were more refined.

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Whereas Durkheim suggested that sudden social changes may lead to deviant actions, Merton theorised that the problem was “a social structure that holds out the same goals to all its members without giving them equal means to achieve them. Merton’s theories, although they do not focus specifically on either crime or subcultures, do explore the theories of anomie, which in turn paves the way for subculture theories. If people are forced to result to deviant means in order to maintain or reach a place in society, then they may often pass these views or skills on to others. This may particularly be the case of lower class individuals who bond together to commit deviant or criminal acts. These theories, known as “cultural deviance” theories, made way for the first true subculture theories.

A subculture is defined as a subdivision within the dominant culture that has its own norms, values and belief system. These subcultures emerge when individuals in similar circumstances find themselves virtually isolated or neglected by mainstream society. Thus they group together for mutual support. Subcultures exist within the larger society, not apart from it. The members of the subculture are different from the dominant culture. However, the strain theories only explain why subcultures form, and not how they continue to shape, or how they effect crime.

The development of a subculture that has already taken place is known as “extension of social disorganisation” and the continuation of that subculture to another generation is known as “extension of differential association. ” An example of how subculture can continue from one generation to another was proposed by the sociologists Marvin Wolfgang and Franco Ferracuti. They suggested that once a subculture becomes defined it will develop it’s own norms and values. In their paper “Subculture of Violence,” they showed what could happen if violent behaviour became the norm for a subculture.

Other members in the subculture would begin to replicate this behavioural pattern, and this would continue. This then, is the real meaning of a subculture, a situation where a set of morals held are completely different to that of the society as a whole. Walter Miller was once sociologist who really examined the meanings of this theory. For him, certain value systems generate delinquent acts. Concentrating on class areas in Boston, in 1955, he came up with his own conclusions. Analysing their moral system, he came up with six main areas that the people within this subculture focused on.

The concern over “trouble” is a major feature of the lower class. Getting into trouble and staying out of trouble are very important daily preoccupations. Trouble can either mean prestige or landing in jail. “Toughness,” another concern, further represents a commitment to law-violation and being a problem to others. Machismo and being daring is stressed. The third focal concern is that of “smartness. ” It is the ability to gain something by outsmarting or conning another. Prestige is often the reward for those demonstrating such skills.

Another focal concern is “excitement. ” Living on the edge for thrills and doing dangerous things as well as taking risks is a crucial concern. Another focal concern is that of fate. It is a crucial concern to the lower class. Many believe that their lives are subject to forces outside of their control. The last focal concern focuses upon autonomy. This signifies being independent, not relying on others and rejecting authority. Ideas regarding subculture are these days perhaps more important than ever before.

There has been great attention in the press recently to the subcultures in Britain, in particular to the Asian subcultures that are on the increase in certain areas of the country. Crime statistics seem to suggest a high level of crime committed by black members of most communities, and these results have caused a great deal of controversy both about the nature of crime and the nature of policing. With these and other developments, it seems likely that ideas about subcultures will grow and continue to be embellished, while the society around us provides more problems to which people feel forced to react against in a deviant nature.

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