Miller Lower Class Subcultures

Miller, Walter (1958). "Lower Class Culture as a Generating Milieu of Gang Delinquency." Journal of Social Issues 14 (3): 5–20. doi:10.1111/j.1540-4560.1958.tb01413.x.


"Lower-class subculture: Walter B. Miller

Miller explained crime in terms of a distinctive lower-class subculture. He believed that Americans in the lower-class social bracket had developed a subculture which had its own values and traditions separate from those in a higher social bracket. These values and way of life were passed on from generation to generation. The values inherent in the lower-class culture actively encouraged lower-class men to commit crime.

This subculture had a range of interests and characteristics of its own which included an appreciation of toughness, smartness and excitement.

1. Toughness

This is an expression of masculinity and rejects timidity and weakness. Its manifestation can lead to violence in order to maintain a reputation for toughness.

2. Smartness

Such a quality emphasises the ability to outsmart or ‘con’ another person. The kind of examples would be conmen and petty thieves.

3. Excitement

Here the person is searching for emotional stimulus and excitement. Excitement is found in gambling, sexual adventures and alcohol. All these activities can be obtained during a night out on the town.

The desire to be tough and smart and to seek excitement, carries risk. The result can be physical harm and disruption to one’s life.

With specific regard to adolescents in lower-class subculture, such activities and focal concerns are particularly exaggerated because the generally belong to a peer group which demands conformity to group norms. In addition, adolescents are especially concerned about status which is achieved via peer group norms. In other words, status here will derive from being tough and smart in the eyes of peers.

Miller’s view on delinquency and focal concerns

Miller believed that delinquency was essentially about the acting out of the focal concerns of lower-class subculture (toughness, smartness etc.) Its roots lay in the socialisation into a subculture with ‘a distinctive tradition, many centuries old with an integrity of its own’.

Such a subculture has a life of its own.The reason for its existence is due to a need for a pool of low-skilled labour. These kind of workers have to be able to tolerate routine, repetitive work as well as periods of unemployment. Lower-class suculture, with its emphasis on excitement and risk-taking activities, allows these workers to endure the monotony of their work. The activities of the subculture relieve them from the boredom of their working lives."