Subcultural theories within criminology view criminal activity as normal and resulting from learned behaviour, and focus on the content of that behaviour as opposed to the processes by which they become ingrained in subjects. They argue that certain groups develop norms and values that are different from those held by others throughout society, and that crime and deviance are the result of social forces. Subcultural theory emerged from the work of the Chicago School and investigations of social strain theory into urban gangs, and developed into a series of theories proposing that small cultural groups fragment away from mainstream values and have attitudes conducive to violence and criminal behaviour. The primary focus of subculture theory is juvenile delinquency, due to the notion within criminological theory that if adolescent offenses can be understood and appropriately responded to, it will prevent the development of the individual into a criminal.
Several key figures had a hand in studies of gang activity and criminal behaviour in accordance with socio-economic strata. Albert Cohen linked anomie theory with Freud’s idea of reaction formation, proposing the idea that delinquency among youth groups of low income areas and classes is merely a response against the social norms and impositions of the middle class. Cohen advocated for the adoption of social norms specific to economically deprived areas, and that criminal acts result when youths conform to the norms of an area of lower social mobility. Richard Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin, on the other hand, proposed that delinquency in lower class youth could result from differential opportunity, meaning that youths in a critical financial situations or unstable environments might be tempted to turn to criminal activity in order to meet their needs.
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