Recasting Cohen's Strain-Based Theory of Subcultural Delinquency

Richard A. Wallace, University of Wisconsin - River Falls

Even though crime and delinquency still thrives in subcultural milieus, subcultural theories of crime and delinquency have found their way into research obscurity, finding greatest expression in textbooks and classrooms. One such statement is Albert Cohen's subcultural theory of delinquency, which has gained and lost an audience over the past half century. The empirical tests of Cohen that took place narrowly focused on the dropout-delinquency relationship, a marginal test which has provided mixed results at best. Rather than banish Cohen's theory to an academic wasteland, it deserves a second look. In this paper I recast Cohen's subcultural theory of delinquency in a way that makes it more amenable to empirical tests. These modification are not designed to affect the theoretical integrity or etiology proposed by Cohen, but instead focus on generating more internal consistency among the middle-class values and standards proposed therein. Using Cohen's nine middle-class values as a guide, I propose a new scheme which reduces the number of values to five, each of which is made up of at least one of the nine original middle-class values.

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Updated 05/20/2006