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Cultural-Deviance Explanations of Delinquency (From Introduction to Juvenile Delinquency: Youth and the Law, P 121-143, 1984, James T Carey and Patrick D McAnany - See NCJ-116445)

NCJ Number
J T Carey; P D McAnany
Date Published
23 pages
This chapter focuses on two influential statements of cultural-deviance theory, examines the extent to which they are empirically valid, and explores efforts to modify or extend the theory.
Sutherland related delinquent behavior to differential socialization in a pluralistic society. Criminal behavior, i.e., behavior that violates the laws of the dominant society, is learned in interaction with other persons in a process of communication. Sutherland's conviction that value conflict is the root cause of criminality has not fared well in research designed to identify alternative values. Some attempts to test differential-association theory, however, have shown that if a person associates with delinquent friends, that person is likely to become delinquent. Other theorists have modified Sutherland's theory of differential association according to various principles pertaining to how behavior is learned. Walter Miller revived interest in delinquency as a product of alternative values (1958). Miller asserted that the primary motivation of delinquent activity is the attempt to realize the values of the lower-class community itself, values related to toughness, adventure, and autonomy. His research focused on gang delinquency in Boston during the 1950's. A host of studies of class attitudes, however, has not uncovered any alternative set of lower-class values. Some studies that included Miller's concerns in their designs show that all youth -- delinquent, lower class, and middle class -- evaluate conventional images equally highly and more highly than delinquent ones. A case study of behavior modification in a boys' training school, suggests the value of learning theory for promoting positive behaviors among those who have learned deviant behaviors.


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