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Understanding DevianceA Guide to the Sociology of Crime and Rule-Breaking

Understanding Deviance: A Guide to the Sociology of Crime and Rule-Breaking (7th edn)

David Downes, Paul Rock, and Eugene McLaughlin
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date: 29 January 2023

p. 1236. Culture and Subculturelocked

p. 1236. Culture and Subculturelocked

  • David Downes, David DownesEmeritus Professor, London School of Economics
  • Paul RockPaul RockEmeritus Professor, London School of Economics
  •  and Eugene McLaughlinEugene McLaughlinProfessor of Criminology, City University


This chapter examines the cultural and subcultural theories of crime and delinquency, beginning with Albert Cohen’s 1955 analysis of ‘subculture’ in relation to delinquent behaviour by gangs and how his approach to subculture as a ‘way of life’ evolved to resolve problems facing lower-class youth in a highly competitive society. It then looks at the work of other scholars who challenged Cohen’s theory but retained much of his analytic framework, including Richard Cloward, Lloyd Ohlin, and David Matza. In particular, it discusses various theoretical perspectives linking culture and subculture to delinquency, from strain theories to Matza’s drift theory, labelling theory, and culture conflict theories. It also explores the relationship between crime and the labour market, particularly unemployment. The chapter concludes by reviewing the criticisms against subcultural theory.

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