With reference to
a subculture, debate the theory of labelling and subcultural theory.

What factors drive individuals to commit crime or deviance can
be explained through various theories however the two I am going to debate, and
compare are the labelling and subcultural theories with reference to the
skinhead and hippie subcultures. Before going any further, it essential to
understand what crime and deviance is, for instance, Edwin Schur (1969:10) once
said: ‘Once we recognise that crime is defined by the criminal law and is
therefore variable in content, we see quite clearly that no explanation of
crime that limits itself to the motivation and behaviour of individuals can
ever be a complete one.’ Here Schur perceived that if we view the criminal law
to be what defines certain acts as criminal, then the issue of how criminal law
varies, sometimes greatly, between countries, reveals that there is nothing
fixed about crime. Whereas deviance is behaviour that goes against societies
norms and values, these acts can be criminal or non-criminal. For example,
informal deviance could be arguing inside a hospital, in this way deviance can
be thought off as forbidden or restricted behaviour which most likely will
attract either punishment or disapproval. (Downes and Rock 1988).

This form of behaviour is influential within the subcultural
theory which proposes that individuals who deviate from mainstream norms and
values create their own, different to most of society. After rejecting
mainstream norms and ideals you become a deviant. It is focused on the notion
that those who turn to crime and deviance are reacting together against the
majority view leading to a subcultural lifestyle. From this, the appearance of
gang subcultures emerged. To explain this Albert K. Cohen (1955) came up with
his own theory. Cohen stated that working-class boys aimed to achieve success
validate by mainstream beliefs, i.e. the American Dream, however due to lacked
or blocked opportunities such as poor family background or limited education
they end up until to reach their desired success. This results in status
frustration which causes the lower-class boys to act out. The boys reject
society’s ideals and instead try to achieve this success through criminal means
by joining a delinquent subculture, for instance, they could achieve success through
winning fights, as they hold different norms and values to mainstream culture. Cohen
categorised delinquent subculture into non-utilitarian, malicious and negative.
He mentioned that when people commit theft we assume its because they wanted
to. Be it food so they can eat, or luxury items to gain status, or selling
stolen jewellery to gain money we believe it is a way for these individuals to
get want they want, that they are rational in thinking and ‘utilitarian.’

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However, Cohen believed that stealing held no utilitarian
consideration of gains, he said, ‘they do it for the hell of it.’ Cohen
considered their acts malicious as the gang subculture shows malice, contempt,
and rejection towards the society that they discarded. Cohen also remarks on
short run hedonism. The gangs tend to act impulsively instead of making long
term plans. The members in the gang highlight group autonomy and are unable to
accept any views or beliefs or demonstrate self-control except from forces
within the group itself. Here they resist strong bonds and rules implemented
outside of the group such as family influence and school. Cohens theory has
merits as it suggests an explanation for non-utilitarian crime amongst working
class boys and helps to explain non- profit crimes such as street fights and graffiti.
On the other hand, Cohen’s theory does have limitations as it assumes that all
working class hold the same goals for success as the middle class. It is
assumed the reason for these youths turning to delinquency is a result of not
being able to reach these goals and ignores the fact that these values may have
been different from the start. It also ignores the crimes of the middle-class
and why some individuals from this sect join gangs. Lastly, Cohen was unable to
explain why delinquent subcultures take different forms, for example, why some
groups are focused on non-profit crime such as brawling to achieve success and
how others are more concerned with prestige though illegal means such as theft.

Continuing, Cloward and Ohlin (1960) developed on Cohne’s
theory. They stated that are three different groups of subcultures that the
youth might join. First is the criminal subculture i.e. organised crime, where
the youth look for outside role models and are taught how to commit criminal
acts by adults in this way of life. Here they can gain success by advancing up
the ranks of the gang by committing more crimes. This subculture seeks material
gain and status through illegitimate means. The second category is the conflict
subculture, this occurs in areas of little organised crime or when individuals
failed in criminal subculture. This group offers ways for the youth to achieve
success in the gang through violence instead of monetary crimes. The second
category is the retreatist subculture, here juveniles have failed in both
criminal and conflict gangs. They are known as ‘double failures’. Because of
having failed within other subcultures, individuals in this group tend to seek
out drugs and alcohol to face their rejection.

Following on, an example of a subculture who rejected mainstream
values and norms and formed their own gangs is the skinheads of the 1970’s. The
skinheads were a youth subculture and originated among the working class. As
subcultural theories suggest they rejected the counter-culture moment of the
1960’s and took on a style and culture of their own that was the opposite of
the hippie movement. They based their values on extreme right-wing politics who
promoted ant – Semitic and racist views, and were known to be neo- Nazism. Shaved
heads, heavy boots, bomber jacks and braces were among their identifying style.
They were a youth group with a distinctive style and shared interests, in this
case ‘punk’. As mentioned by Hall and Jefferson (1976), youth subcultures creativity
established styles as a form of opposition and a way to reject mainstream
ideals just as the skinhead subculture did.      

Cloward and Ohlin did give us an explanation for various types
of working class crime that Cohen failed to consider yet they made a too big
distinction between the three different subcultures as they can overlap with
each other. For example, people within the conflict subculture could partake and
deal in drugs, resulting in financial gain. As well as this their theory fails
to consider white- collar crime and ignores middle class crime like Cohen.

Next, we will look at the labelling theory which traces back
to Frank Tannenbaums 1938 ‘Crime and the Community.’ Those who are labelled
deviant acquire this name through acting against socially approved norms. This
theory sought to find out why certain acts were classified as criminal and
others were not. Once an individual has been labelled as a criminal, that label
becomes the dominant description used to describe that individual, for
instance, a person who is caught stealing is therefore known as a thief from
that point on instead of a father or a good friend. This way people only become
deviant because of the label placed upon them. Howard Becker (1963), said that ‘The
deviant is one to whom that label has been applied; deviant behaviour is
behaviour, that people so label.’ For example, people who see an individual
with a style like the skinhead subculture will label that individual as one and
as a result that person could take up the traits of the skinhead subculture due
to consistently being able as one. Along this line it is not the crimes the criminal
commits that are particularly important rather than society’s reaction to them



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