Criminal justice : an introduction to crime and the criminal by Peter Joyce

By Peter Joyce

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This approach tended to view crime as a lower-class phenomenon, thus ignoring delinquency committed by those in a higher social bracket, and also disregarded the way in which a disposition towards crime could be constrained by factors that included the quality of family relationships (Agnew, 1985: 152–3). This resulted in an attempt to broaden the scope of strain theory beyond Merton’s emphasis on economic factors and to incorporate the strain imposed on an individual’s commitment to the law arising from other forms of goal blockage, in particular his or her inability to avoid situations that they found painful or aversive.

Unlike Durkheim (who believed that an individual set his or her own success goals subject to the constraints imposed by society), Merton contended that these and the means to achieve them were set by society. Merton further asserted that social inequality was the key reason for deviancy. It was not, as Durkheim contended, dependent on social disintegration but was an endemic condition that was particularly associated with the working class. Robert Merton and strain theory Merton suggested that there were a number of behavioural patterns which individuals could exhibit in reaction to the culturally approved goals of the society in which they lived and the institutionalsed ways of achieving them (Merton, 1938: 676).

Cohen labelled this reaction as the response of the delinquent corner boy. This situation resulted in the emergence of a delinquent subculture in which society’s values were rejected and new ones were substituted in their place. These new values formed the basis of a delinquent subculture – ‘a system of values that represented an inversion of the values held by respectable, law-abiding society’ and it was in this sense that it was asserted ‘the world of the delinquent is the world of the law-abiding turned upside down’ (Matza and Sykes, 1957: 664).

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