Cloward and Ohlin

Delinquency and Opportunity - Cloward and Ohlin

"Cloward and Ohlin developed many of the ideas of Merton and Cohen. However, they criticised Merton for not explaining the reasons behind different types of criminal behaviour, although they did accept his theory on working class deviance.

The basis of their theory is that just as the opportunity to be successful by legitimate means varies, so too does the opportunity to be successful by illegitimate means. In other words, different, illegitimate opportunities available to potential delinquents will produce different types of crimes. For example, a particular area might have an existing criminal subculture which would provide the young delinquent with access to a criminal environment. In another area, where no such criminal culture existe, the young delinquent would resort to another type of criminal behaviour.

Like Merton, Cloward and Ohlin agree that members of the working-class are more likely to deviate because they have fewer opportunities to achieve success by legitimate means. However, they then developed three possible responses to this problem of impasse.

The delinquent's behaviour could be characterised in three ways depending on whether they gain access to a criminal subculture or not, and their performance within it. The three categories were: criminal subculture; conflict subculture and retreatist subculture.

1. Criminal subculture

In this situation, the young delinquent has access to a criminal subculture. Such subcultures emerge in areas where there is already an organised, adult criminal community. The young delinquent learns from the established, adult criminals who are role models for him. If successful, they rise up the professional criminal hierarchy. Criminal subcultures are in the main involved in utilitarian crime; that is crime with a financial reward.

2. Conflict subculture

Here, conflict subculture develops in areas where there is little opportunity to gain access to a criminal subculture. As such, there is no real opportunity to acquire role models and criminal skills. These areas have a transient population and no 'community spirit'. With no opportunity to achieve success either by lawful or unlawful means, the reponse is often gang violence as a release for anger and frustration.

3. Retreatist subculture

In this situation, faced with failure to achieve success either by lawful or unlawful means (a double failure), some working-class youths will develop a retreatist subculture. Such a subculture will often revolve around drugs."