What Is Albert Cohen’s Delinquent Subculture Theory?

According to the University of Portsmouth, Albert Cohen’s delinquent subcultural theory posits that delinquency often emerges as a subculture from a shared sense of economic and social disadvantage within a society. This idea attempts to explain why delinquency occurs so often in gangs and among lower working-class males.

Cohen’s research and resulting theory were a reaction to the limitations and oversimplifications he saw in Robert Merton’s strain theory, according to the University of Portsmouth. Cohen agreed that criminal behavior was in part the result of the strain of being unable to accomplish one’s goals, but he disagreed with Merton’s hypothesis that crime was individual, gain-based and could occur at any socioeconomic status.

In 1955, his book “Delinquent Boys,” Cohen investigated trends of criminal behavior in lower-class urban areas of the United States, then built on emerging findings about the delinquent subculture. Florida State University’s College of Criminology and Criminal Justice states that Cohen’s investigation of gangs revealed that the groups were mostly lower-class males who seemed to be retaliating against a world that had given them empty promises regarding the “American Dream.” Cohen’s theory on the delinquent subculture also predicts that the existence of the subculture would likely draw in lower-status persons exposed to it, therefore creating more delinquency among anyone who might believe that their only opportunities for progress existed in the ranks of gangs.