Sociological Theories of Delinquency
Chapter 5 reviews social structure, social process, subcultural, and social reaction theories. Important theories related to delinquency include anomie and strain theory, labeling theory, delinquent boys, and the code of the street.
- This chapter covers four families of sociological theories: social structure, social process, subcultural, and social reaction.
SOCIAL STRUCTURE THEORIES
- At the turn of the 20th century, University of Chicago sociologists sought to understand crime and deviant behavior in the light of the social disorganization they perceived in the city. The sociologists built on Ferdinand Töennies' comparisons in Germany of close-knit rural communities (Gemeinschaft) to that of the impersonal mass society of urban communities (Gesellschaft).
- Ernest Burgess theorized that cities develop in concentric circles, growing toward outer areas. As the urban area expands toward rural areas, each of these zones develops certain characteristics, such as an area of working-class homes, affluent homes, commuter neighborhoods, and industrial zones.
- Building on Burgess's work, Clifford Shaw and Henry McKay believed that the core values of society would be strained by persistent poverty, rapid population growth, population heterogeneity, and population movement. They hypothesized that delinquency rates would be higher in zones that were experiencing instability and lower in zones that were stable.
- Robert Sampson and William Julius Wilson extended Shaw and McKay's thesis by considering race. Sampson and Wilson rejected the claim that the culture developed by the inner city is an easy way to explain crime and that there is little society can do about it.
- Robert Sampson, Stephen Raudebush, and Felton Earls envisioned a concept called collective efficacy, which is a group's shared belief of the extent to which it can successfully complete a task.
SOCIAL PROCESS THEORIES
- Some theories assert that crime is learned: differential association and social learning theory (people learn crime from others), and techniques of neutralization (youths who break the law seek to explain away their behavior).
- Ron Akers developed his social learning theory of crime across four dimensions: differential association, definitions, differential reinforcement, and imitation.
- The defense mechanisms that youths use in techniques of neutralization are denial of responsibility, denial of injury, denial of victim, condemnation of condemners, and appeal to higher loyalties.
- A popular social process theory is anomie or strain theory. Anomie is personal anxiety or isolation produced by rapidly shifting moral values. Robert Merton's strain theory refers to the personal strain caused by being excluded from economic rewards.
- Merton's five modes of adaptation to strain are conformity, innovation, ritual, retreat, and rebellion.
- According to Robert Agnew, the types of stress that are sources of strain are strain caused by the disjunction between just/fair outcomes and actual outcomes; strain caused by the removal of positively valued stimuli from the individual; strain caused by negative stimuli.
- Five subcultural theories deal with how youths often break the law in the company of friends. These theories deal with delinquent boys, differential opportunity, the lower class, the subculture of violence, and the code of the street.
- According to Albert K. Cohen, when lower-class boys fail to measure up to middle-class standards, they experience status-frustration and react in ways that cause delinquent behavior.
- Richard Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin use differential opportunity to extend the ideas of strain. When lower-class boys cannot compete in society, they turn to the delinquent subculture to help them adapt.
- According to Walter Miller, the subculture of the lower class emphasizes many middle-class values, but has a different set of focal concerns that often conflicts with traditional society.
- Marvin Wolfgang and Franco Ferracuti developed the subculture of violence thesis to explain why certain groups consistently produce violent behavior.
- Elijah Anderson claims that disadvantaged black neighborhoods promote a violent code of conduct that young men and often young women must obey.
SOCIAL REACTION THEORIES
- Social reaction theories consider how behavior is influenced by the reactions of others.
- Labeling theory describes how a label or tag applied by society can affect an individual's self-perception and behavior. An important idea of labeling theory is that no behavior is intrinsically deviant but is subject to the label placed on it by those whose values have been adopted by the larger culture. A second important idea is that actual behavior isn't as important as the perception of the behavior.
- Edwin Lemert distinguished between primary and secondary deviance in labeling theory. Primary deviance is the label that is placed on the offender. Secondary deviance is the labels that individuals internalize.
- The implications that labeling theory has for juvenile justice system policy concerns limiting the degree to which labels are applied to young offenders so that the degree to which they consider themselves as deviant is also limited.
- Shaming, which is related to labeling theory, is applying a mark or stigma on disgraced individuals. Reintegrative shaming involves the youth being confronted by those in his or her social network who are involved in the crafting of the solution to the problem.