04/12/17
This blog was inspired by my fellow blogger Karl Thompson who recently announced that he was eradicating all trace of Cloward and Ohlin from his crime and deviance handouts. I sympathise because for many years before I retired I believed that much subcultural theory had dated very badly and had little relevance to the modern world. However I persevered as I saw that Rob Webb the AQA Chief Examiner continued to write about it in some depth in his textbook and I saw references to it on marking schemes. So what follows are some ideas that might help teachers 'jazz' up and make socially relevant the theory of Richard Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin who argued back in the 1950s that lack of opportunity could lead to the potential formation of three subcultures that offered young people opportunities for involvement with illegal or criminal activity. Cloward and Ohlin speculate that in some neighbourhoods organised criminal gangs could offer young people career opportunities to climb a hierarchy in much the same way that a young person could join a legitimate business or company and work their way up through the ranks to the boardroom. I would illustrate this type of illegitimate opportunity structure using film and television. For example, the first 15 minutes of the movie Goodfellas' is worth showing because it shows a young Irish lad, Henry Hill, being recruited by the local Mafia to carry out errands on their behalf. There is a wonderful scene when Henry's postman is threatened by the local Mafiosa because he has delivered a letter from Henry's school to his parents showing the extent of his truancy! The Netflix series 'Narcos' is also useful because again it illustrates how young people were recruited by Pablo Escobar and other cocaine cartels and kingpins. The recent BBC series 'Snowfall' is also useful in this respect. I also would use extracts from Gang Leader For A Day by Sudhir Venkatesh showing how the crack-dealing Black Kings gang was not that different from any legitimate employer in terms of how it rewarded hard work with promotion.
Cloward and Ohlin point out that in the USA of the 1950s, most illegitimate or criminal opportunities were offered up by street gangs or conflict subcultures that were frequently involved in drug dealing and violent disputes with other gangs over territory and 'respect'. This type of illegitimate opportunity structure can be illustrated in some detail because its existence is very much alive today in inner city neighbourhoods in both the USA and UK. In the USA gang violence especially between young black men often revolves around allegiance to the gang colors of the Crips and the Bloods. My students quite enjoyed researching this conflict. I would also recommend to lighten the tone that you show extracts from either West Side Story (especially the scene involving Officer Krupke in which Sociology gets a mention) or 'Grease' as well as short extracts from Marlon Brando's The Wild Ones (which includes the question - 'What are you rebelling against? and the brilliant answer 'What have you got?) or Francis Ford Coppola's The Outsiders. It is a good idea to add a British dimension. Recent news has documented how 2016 has been the worst year since 2008 for deaths caused by knives - many of which were the direct result of territorial gang violence. The crime and deviance page of this website also includes some important research carried out on gangs by sociologists such as Keith Kintrea and John Pitts which are worth bringing to the attention of your students. If you have time the film 'Bullet Boy' insightfully shows the pressures on boys and young men to get involved in such gangs and the difficulties of escaping them. It is particularly good on how gang life revolves around the concept of 'respect and 'disrespect' - concepts which are not a million miles away from Albert Cohen's concept of 'status'.
Finally Cloward and Ohlin argue that in some neighbourhoods that there is little criminal opportunity available either in the form of organised crime or street gangs. Consequently young people in these districts are likely to drift into informal subcultures which form around recreational drug use such as smoking weed or using dance drugs such as ecstasy. However a point worth making is that sometimes these retreatist drug subcultures can cause real crime problems. For example, a senior police officer in Leeds once told me that most city centre muggings, shoplifting and burglaries in Leeds were carried by a subculture of heroin addicts who numbered about a hundred people in all. The police knew their names but could not arrest them unless they were caught in the act. The same police officer observed that crime in Leeds would rise when the global price of heroin rose, for example, when European police succeeded in closing down international drug routes the drug became more difficult to get so increasing prices. What a lot of people do not realise is that heroin addicts are very hardworking busy people. If you have to acquire £70-80 everyday to feed your habit you have to be an early riser and to work hard at coming up with the criminal opportunities so that you can pay your dealer for your daily hit. A typical addict might have to work 7-8 hours a day, 7 days a week, before they earn enough to do this. Note how this local-global link provides a good jumping off point to start discussing the impact of global crime networks on local communities.