The Effect of Oppositional Values on Community Levels of Crime and Informal Social Control

Barbara D. Warner, Eastern Kentucky University

Social science research on the urban underclass, such as Wilson's (1987, 1996) and Anderson's (1991, 1994, 1999, has led several sociologists and criminologists to argue that neighborhoods characterized by concentrations of poverty and social isolation may develop values or norms counter to those of the lqarger society (see e.g., Sampson and Wilson; 1995; Krivo and Peterson 1997; Massey and Denton 1993; Warner and Pierce 1993; Warner and Wilcox Rountree 1997). This has led some scholars to suggest that sub-cultural values, particularly ones related to an "oppositional" culture or a subculture of violence, may be an important aspect to add to contemporary community level crime models (Anderson 1990, 1991, 1994; Fischer 1995; Markowitz et al. 2001; Patillo 1998; Simpson and Wilson 1995).

Much of the literaure examining sub-cultural values in relation to criminal behavior has focused on value differences across individuals with certain characteristics, e.g., now attitudes vary by race or ethnicity. This approach is more appropriately referred to as an "attitude mediation thesis" Markowitz and Felson 1998). As Fischer (1995) points out, sub-cultural theory is about differences across places. While there has been some recent attention to the role of sub-cultural values on crime within neighborhoods or communities, there has been very little quantitative examination of sub-cultural values at this level.

Further, sub-cultural values may be an important aspect of community level crime models not only in terms of their direct effect on community crime rates, but also through their effect on informal social control. The presence of non-conventional or "street" values, existing along side of conventional values, may create uncertainty with regard to appropriate behavior within the neighborhood, and therefore inhibit informal social control, leading indirectly to higher crime rates.

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Updated 05/20/2006