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Delinquent culture by itself is the culture of the criminal world, reflecting the whole set of spiritual and material values that regulate and arrange the activity of criminal communities and subcultures. Criminal subculture opposes the civil society by means of creating anti-social values, norms, traditions, and various rituals within a group of criminal juveniles (Hirschi, 2001, p. 119). Belonging to a criminal subculture transforms the personality of a juvenile; furthermore, it is the most powerful mechanism of increasing the delinquency rate. Social theories of juvenile delinquency are based on the academically accepted theoretic concepts of crime. One of the most outstanding criminological theories is the theory of delinquent subculture, introduced by Albert Cohen and consequently analyzed by Lloyd Ohlin and Richard Cloward. The Subculture Theory implies that definite groups of the society (subcultures) possess the attitudes and values that stimulate the delinquent crime behavior. In terms of the contemporary American society, the delinquent subcultures of the urban gangs highly affect the general crime level of the country.

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Albert Cohen’s Subculture Theory

According to Albert Cohen’s Subculture Theory, delinquent and criminal subcultures are created because of the differences between the social and economic expectations of juveniles and the limited opportunities for the realization of these expectations (Cohen, 1971, p.15). As a rule, criminal subculture is mostly spread among poor people and unqualified workers or their children that do not have any chances to compete for wealth and success lawfully. Criminal subcultures become the only place, where such juveniles can raise the social status and obtain an “important” role. Young people organize gangs, in which they actually gain recognition and satisfaction (Hirschi, 2001, p. 117). Albert Cohen states that criminal subculture mostly develops in the lower strata of society (Cohen, 1971, p.54).

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The inability of the lower class of society to succeed in life results in the process of reaction formation, implying that these people will produce extreme responses to any situations in their lives. Cohen’s reaction formation indicates the high possibility of anti-social and pro-criminal behavior of such juveniles, creating either corner boys, college boys or delinquent boys (Cohen, 1971, p.34). Obviously, the term “college boys” refers to representatives of the middle-class, who are less likely to be involved in criminal subcultures. The term “corner boys” is used to describe the upper layer of the lower class and the lower layer of the middle class. Any deviations in this group occur within the permissible limits. “Delinquent boys”, by turn, represent the socioeconomic bottom of the society, who spend their lives on the streets, starting street fights, stealing, and eventually creating juvenile gangs able to commit federal crimes. The famous criminologist Lloyd Ohlin and the sociologist Richard Cloward improved the model presented by Albert Cohen, deriving three types of subculture: the criminal subculture (racketeering), the “conflict”-oriented subculture (juvenile gangs), and the retreatist subculture (drug addiction) (Clear, 2007, p.217).

The research of these works allows assuming that the criminalizing function of the delinquent environment is reflected in the preservation and transmission of the traditions of the socio-cultural delinquent environment. Such socio-cultural delinquent environments are able to oppose the social institutions involved in the upbringing of children (family and school in the first place). Therefore, all efforts should be directed at the reinforcement of the role of the family and the significance of school within the low-income communities.

In spite of the fact that the studies of Cohen and Ohlin were conducted back in the fifties, the society of the United States of America is still suffering from the delinquent activity of the criminal subculture. It is possible to assume that this occurs primarily because of the differences in values and goals of people, immigrating to the United States from other countries. Another aspect is that juvenile emigrants often fail to adapt to the new environment as they experience the shift from one socioeconomic level to another in the new country, which leads to creating urban gangs in order to feel confident and needed (Clear, 2007, p.215). The criminal subculture develops as the result of the conflict of two cultures, and its juvenile members are marginal people, who have partially lost their initial culture, but failed to accept the new one. In such a way, the Subculture Theory results to be clearly relevant to the contemporary American society and its crime rate. The main concern of a non-emigrant citizen for these newly formed subcultures is that the modern American society allows adolescents to act like adults and reveal their individuality, but fails to accept them as adults officially (Clear, 2007, p.217). This contradiction along with poverty creates a conflict stimulating juveniles to join a subculture, in which they will be accepted and recognized as independent personalities.


It is hard to underestimate the influence of these urban gangs and other criminal subcultures on the general crime rate of the United States of America. The Subculture Theory explains the premises for such delinquent behavior of juveniles, belonging to low-class American communities. Evidently, the attitudes and values stimulating delinquent juvenile behavior need to be changed before an individual reaches the teen-age crisis period (Vito & Maahs, 2011, p.180). The only possibility to change the present situation lies within the introduction of more minority teachers, to which emigrant children can become attached to. Such role models could potentially block the negative impact of the inappropriate family values, providing an example of success to children. Having a role model and educational alternative at a very young age can transform a potential criminal to a respectable citizen. Thus, the concepts of the criminal subcultures presented by Cohen and Ohlin are a perfect base for the new-time struggle against delinquency.

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