Differential association is a theory associated with criminologist Edwin Sutherland (1883-1950) says criminal behavior (and the values and attitudes that go with it) is learned like other behaviors. It predicts that an individual will choose the criminal path when the balance of definitions for law-breaking exceeds those for law-abiding. Sutherland also known for introducing the idea of "white collar crime" in the late 1930s.
In the term "differential association," the association refers to the fact that behavior is learned in interaction with others. The differential part refers to the idea that it's the difference between the pro-social messages you get and the anti-social messages you get that determines which direction you go.
Albert K. Cohen (1950s) is associated with "subculture theory." It said a subculture (norms, values, customs) develops in "slum areas" that encourages/supports criminal behavior. The underlying causes are strain — youth are taught to strive for success but most fail (or see their elders fail) which yields "status frustration" and an inclination to strike back at "the system" by turning one's backs on its values. Theory shows Cohen was student of Sutherland and Merton.
Albert Cohen described five typical traits of the gang subculture:
- anti-utilitarian — activity not always oriented toward material reward.
- inversion of "mainstream" values, "mirror image of the American Dream"
- malice: vandalism and property damage often motivated by contempt with intent to injure.
- "short-termism" — living for the moment, no investment for long term
- group loyalty as dominant value
Social integration — how connected people are to one another or to their groups or how connected groups are.
Social regulation — how much control individuals feel from the collective.
altruistic — excess integration (all social, no individual)
fatalistic — excess regulation (no individual agency)
anomic — deficit regulation (nothing but individual agency)
egoistic — deficit integration (all individual, no social)
Accepting or rejecting social goals and values
Accepting or rejecting (or having access to) legitimate institutional means of achieving goals
Note that a fifth is often added — replacement of both societal goals and legitimate means.
|Adaptation||Cultural Goals||Institutionalized Means||Examples|
|Innovation||accept||reject||Robber barons, "smarts," wheeling/dealing, tolerance for rogues, much white collar crime, organized crime. Expect among lower class?|
|Ritualism||reject||accept||Is it deviant? Giving up. "I'm not sticking my head out?" "Don't aim high and you won't be disappointed." Expect among lower middle class?|
|Retreatism||reject||reject||Probably least common. Psychotics, autists, pariahs, outcasts, vagrants, tramps, drug addicts. Failure leads to giving up on the goals as well as the means. Dropping out.|
|Rebellion||replace||replace||Reject status quo and actively attempt to set up alternative goals and means.|
The following from James D. Orcutt's Deviance and Social Control course website
These "adaptations" describe social roles people adopt in response to cultural and structural pressures. Conformity, for instance, is a nondeviant adaptation where people engage in legitimate roles despite pressures toward deviant behavior. The conformist accepts and strives for the cultural goal of material success (+) by following institutionalized means (+). Innovation, on the other hand, involves acceptance of the cultural goal (+) but rejection of legitimate, institutionalized means (-). Instead, the innovator employs illegitimate means to obtain economic success. Merton proposes that innovation is particularly characteristic of the lower class—the location in the class structure where access to legitimate means is limited and the “strain toward anomie” is most severe. Driven by the dominant cultural emphasis on material goals, lower-class persons use illegitimate but expedient means to overcome structural blockages. Thus, Merton’s analysis of innovation, like Durkheim’s analysis of anomic suicide, arrives at an environmental/structural explanation of a set of social facts; i.e., high rates of lower-class crime and delinquency found in official records.
However, Merton goes on to explain a much broader range of deviant phenomena than just lower-class crime and delinquency. His third adaptation, ritualism, represents a different departure from cultural standards. The ritualist is an overconformist. The pursuit of the dominant cultural goal of economic success is rejected or abandoned (-) and compulsive conformity to institutional norms (+) becomes an end in itself. Merton argues that this adaptation is most likely to occur within the lower middle class where socialization emphasize strict discipline and rigid conformity to rules. It is exemplified by the behavior of the bureaucratic clerk who, denying any aspirations for advancement, becomes preoccupied with the ritual of doing it “by the book.” Since the ritualist outwardly conforms to norms, we might question, as does Merton, “whether this (adaptation) represents genuinely deviant behavior” (1957: 150).
Merton has no doubts about the deviant nature of his fourth adaptation, retreatism, the rejection of both cultural goals (-) and institutionalized means (-). Therefore, retreatism involves complete escape from the pressures and demands of organized society. Merton applies this adaptation to the deviant role “activities of psychotics, autists, pariahs, outcasts, vagrants, vagabonds, tramps, chronic drunkards, and drug addicts” (1957: 153). Merton provides few clues as to where in the class structure this adaptation is most likely. Retreatism is presented as an escape mechanism whereby the individual resolves internal conflict between moral constraints against the use of illegitimate means and repeated failure to attain success through legitimate means.
The final adaptation in Merton’s typology is rebellion. The rebel not only rejects the goals and means of the established society but actively attempts to substitute new goals and means in their place. This adaptation refers, then, to the role behavior of political deviants, who attempt to modify greatly the existing structure of society. The nonconforming rebel is not secretive as are aberrant deviants and is not merely engaging in behavior that violates the norms of society. The rebel acknowledges her intention to change norms and the social structure that they support to build a better society. Merton implies that rebellion is most characteristic of “members of a rising class” (1957: 157) inspired by ideologies that “locate the source of large-scale frustrations in the social structure and portray an alternative structure which would not, presumably, give rise to frustration of the deserving” (1957: 156).
The appeal of Merton’s theory and a major reason for its far-reaching impact upon the field of deviance lies in his ability to derive explanations of a diverse assortment of deviant phenomena from a relatively simple analytical framework (1957: 161—194; 1959; 1964; 1966; 1976).
Adapted from pp. 68-75 of James D. Orcutt, Analyzing Deviance, Dorsey Press, 1983.
Merton's model focuses on goal attainment (we might think of this as "pleasure" seeking) and seems to assume that deviance is always a matter of being diverted from a legitimate goal. Agnew suggests that another "normal" social behavior is pain-avoidance and that some social locations might provide no legitimate means to avoid pain and so a "deviant" path is chosen instead. Examples might be ditching school when it is intolerably boring, running away from a miserable home, or striking back at an abuser.
conflict of loyalties solved at the expense of victim or loyalty to law and society in favor of smaller group to which purpetrator owes some kind of allegiance. Psychologically we sometimes see people trying to take credit for their being faithful to the smaller group.
due to causes beyond one's control
allows one to deviate without making a frontal assault on norms
see condemners as hypocrites, etc.
mala per se vs. mala prohibita
no one is hurt by action or victim can well afford it
victim transformed into wrongdoer, into deserving it, etc.
perpetrator thinks of self as avenger
Robin Hood syndrome
Associated with Sutherland. The differential part refers to comparing relative influence of pro-delinquency interactions, definitions, others, etc. to those influences more in the direction of conformity.