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Delinquent and Criminal Subcultures

Subcultural Theory, American Society As Seen From Ground Zero, The Staging Area, The School As A Staging Area

Subcultures consist of norms, values, interests—and artifacts associated with them—that are derivative of, but distinct from, a larger referential culture. The term also is sometimes used loosely to distinguish individuals, groups, or other collectivities based on their demographic characteristics (e.g., age, ethnicity, and regional location) or pattern of behavior (e.g., occupation or commitment to particular activities—birdwatching, stamp collecting, a delinquent or criminal behavior pattern, etc.). The critical element in defining a subculture, however, is the extent to which the shared values, norms, and identities associated with a membership category or a behavior pattern distinguishes the category or pattern of behavior from the larger, more inclusive, social and cultural systems with which it is associated.

Criminal or delinquent subcultures thus consist of systems of norms, values, interests, and related artifacts that support criminal or delinquent behavior. The extent to which delinquent and criminal behavior is "supported" by subcultures varies a great deal, as does the involvement of the many behaviors specified in law as criminal or delinquent. Some subcultures support particular criminal acts or a limited set of such acts (see Inciardi). Some criminal subcultures are simply opportunistic, embracing virtually any criminal opportunity (e.g., subcultures of "hustlers"; see Anderson, 1978; Valentine). To a large extent this is also the case with delinquent subcultures, where specialization is rare. In contrast, "professional criminals" take pride in their craft, organize themselves for the safe and efficient performance of the crimes in which they specialize, and generally avoid other types of criminal involvement that might bring them to the attention of authorities (Sutherland).

ELIJAH ANDERSON

JAMES F. SHORT

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal Law