Lastly, the fifth issue is the degree to which delinquency of the middle class and the gang membership relationship exists in various communities and particularly the males. According to Myerhoff et al (2001: 328-335), the popularized gang ideas are used by all types of youths in different sorts of communities. Moreover, the disorganized communities act as the delinquency locations, predominantly the male gangs.
Greeley et al (2005: 33-41) suggested the strain theory that was introduced by theories such as Albert Cohen as the model that can explain how factors in the middle class such as homelessness, poverty, lack of opportunity and lack of parenting are the major contributors of crime and formation of delinquent sub cultures like the gangs. According to Greeley et al (2005: 33-41), the strain theory forms part of the objectivists perspective that believes that behavior is socially created, assumes consensus of value and is observable. Furthermore, the theory comprises of the two other separate theories, that is, Anomie and Social Disorganization Theories.
According to Lowney (2009: 527-38), both theories suggests that the less presence of integration, cohesion and solidarity within a community, group or society, the higher the rate of crime and deviance.
Gao (2002: 8-26) indicated that the term Anomie refers to condition of lack of norms, that promotes in most cases higher suicide rates. Using the concept of anomie, The Theory of Anomie and Social Structure was drawn. The Theory of Anomie and Social Structure gives a logical explanation of the reasons why most crime activities are found in middle class and the lower class urban areas. According to Salzinger et al (2006), social structure balance and culture are the necessary components that form an integrated society. Therefore, anomie is the direction that disintegration of the society takes when there is dissociation between legitimate societal means and valued cultural ends to those ends (Myerhoff et al, 2001).
The Theory of Anomie and Social Structure brings out two arguments in regards to the means and ends. In the first argument, it stipulates that the strong cultural emphasis in America on the goals of success is greater that the emphasis on the means that are socially approved. Everybody in American society including the poor is socialized to have an aspiration towards success and high achievement. Greeley et al (2005) observed that in the American society, success and competition rank high amongst the other values; they are glamorized in the media, glorified by the leaders and the public authorities, and also taught in schools. In brief, ones worth in American society is measures by monetary success and material possession.
However, Lowney (2009) pointed out that the achievement of the success is expected through conventional and honest means. Moreover, these conventional means are governed, controlled and regulated by the norms of the society. Gao (2002) perceived that the citizens of the America were concerned more with making money, getting ahead and success rather than the conventional means. When emphasis is laid on the goals of success, the norms that regulate their achievement are weakened, and this results to what is referred to as anomie (Salzinger et al, 2006).
The second argument as noted by Myerhoff et al (2001) is the discrepancy existing between ends and means because of Americas class system. The dream of America is to promote an equal opportunity to everybody; however, it is not the case among the minority groups, the middle and the lowers social class. The society socialized them to have high expectations, and yet they are not provided with the occupational opportunities and conventional education to realize the expectations.
Greeley et al (2005) pointed out the emphasis laid by Albert Cohen on the deprivation structural sources that results in the middle class deviant adaptations. However, as Lowney (2009) observed. Cohen specifically applied this to the delinquent sub cultures such as the middle class adolescent males. Delinquent subcultures play a significant role in shaping the behavior of the middle social class boys to get involved in any delinquent behavior. The deprivation theory and The Theory of Anomie and Social Structure agreed because of the perception that blocked goals produce deviance-inducing strain. Gao (2002) found out that the strain theory differed from The Theory of Anomie and Social Structure in the sense that gaining acceptance and status inability in a conventional society, and not the inability to get material success that leads to strain.
According to Salzinger et al (2006), adolescents in public schools face the middle class expectations that are imposed by teachers, administrators and students that represent all class backgrounds. The adolescents of the upper class supported by parents from the upper class generally meet these expectations and standards, and by doing so, they gain status and recognition by peers in large extent and adults. Youths of the middle social class often, particularly boys cannot meet these imposed standards by the upper class. Myerhoff et al (2001) pointed out that they did not receive the necessary skills to measure up to the yardstick of their counterparts of the upper class. Therefore, as a result, their deprivation of their status leads to status frustration. Because of this frustration, delinquent subculture is created in a process called ‘reaction formation’. The perfect outlet for the middle class adolescents are the gangs, they can meet the acceptability criteria. Unfortunately, the criteria includes following negative and malicious values (Greeley et al, 2005).
On the other hand, opportunity theory drawn from anomie theory, disagrees with the Theory of Anomie and Social Structure in that it made assumptions incorrectly that the people of the lower social class who have been denied access to opportunities which are legitimate, automatically have access to opportunities that are illegitimate (Lowney, 2009). The theory further proposed that adaptations and deviant are given explanations by the locations in both opportunities structures that are both legitimate and illegitimate. Gao (2002) observed that the theory argues that aspiration and motivation to success does not account for deviant behavior and conforming, but the person be in a conforming or a deviant environment for learning. Opportunities that are blocked do not open necessarily the door for illegitimate opportunities.
From the discussion of the theories, they all recognized that delinquent gangs commit different illegal activities. However, the subcultures were specialized in accordance to the illegitimate presented opportunities in the youth’s neighborhoods (Salzinger et al, 2006). According to Myerhoff et al (2001), there existed three specialized types of delinquent subculture. The first one is crime where organizations of the gangs are done primarily to commit offenses that produce income. The second is conflict which is generally prevalent amongst the fighting gangs. In the conflict, ones violent nature and toughness gains one status. The third subculture is the retreat individuals, with their main focus being on alcohol and drugs consumption. The members have given up on the goals and means of non conventional and conventional.
Greeley et al (2005) pointed out the recent theory of crime which broadened the strain concept of the discrepancy between expectations and aspirations. The theory encompassed many stress or strain sources. According to Lowney(2009), delinquency and crime are stress adaptations from any sources.
From the many sociological theories discussed, teenage gangs play a very significant role in encouraging its members to be delinquent. Gao (2002) observed that different theories are distinct, but the general picture drawn from the theories is consistent. The members of the gangs congregate recurrently in their neighborhoods with each other, and see themselves as possessing the right to a particular area or a territory in the proximity of their homes. Salzinger et al (2006), these gangs are also structured along age line; they engage together in wide range of activities and have leadership that is well defined.
Myerhoff et al (2001) pointed out that the theories somewhat differ on the specific relationship middle class gang membership to the delinquent behavior. According to Greeley et al (2005), the first writer on gangs was Thrasher who first wrote in early 1920s about the Chicago slums, and that marks the onset of sociological interest on studies related to gangs. Thrasher did not bring out the casual relationship that exists between delinquency and the gang membership. Instead, he gave a description to the gangs as a general symptom of people’s tendency towards a life that is free, with minimal external constraints for the youths especially the teenagers. Lowney (2009) observed that in the view of Thrasher, the teenagers who do not belong to any gang and even the gang members, who lack constraints in life often, engage in delinquency.
Gao (2002) found out that the older offenders and gangs and any person who interacted with them passed on delinquency traditions to the subsequent upcoming gang members, and this led to increased rate of delinquency. Moreover, gangs also influence the delinquency. From the study done by Salzinger et al (2006), they concluded that there exist stresses among the middle classes on the gang membership to affirm their masculinity in neighborhoods where households that are headed by female predominate. The typical value orientations of the gangs lead the members of the gang to break the law.
From the strain theory proposed by Cohen, gangs are implicated in causation of the delinquency among the middle class youths especially the teenagers. The theory argues that the youths are frustrated in their bid to achieve the goals of the middle class. Therefore, some of the youths tend to join gangs as a means of resolving their frustrations, and one of the resolutions in the gangs is delinquencies. The current literature on gangs and its membership, and the attention of their effects on delinquency persists. Gang’s existence is increasing in small towns and cities and even commits serious crimes that involve lethal weapons (Myerhoff et al, 2001).
In conclusion, in examining the relationship of the middle class delinquency to gang, many variables come into play. Gang should not be confused as any other groupings at a corner of a street. The delinquent behavior that is a common characteristic of youths brings the picture of the membership to the gangs and their solidarity to the groups.
- Salzinger, S., Ng-Mak, D., Feldman, R., Kam, C.-M., & Rosario, M. (January 01, 2006). Exposure to Community Violence. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 26, 2, 232-266.
- Myerhoff, H. L., & Myerhoff, B. G. (March 01, 2001). Field Observations of Middle Class Gangs. Social Forces, 42, 3, 328-335.
- Gao, S. (September 06, 2002). Social Causes of Juvenile Delinquency. Chinese Education & Society, 19, 2, 8-26.
- Greeley, A., & Casey, J. (June 06, 2005). Upper Middle Class Deviant Gang. American Catholic Sociological Review, 24, 33-41.
- Lowney, J. (January 01, 2009). The Wall Gang: a study of interpersonal process and deviance among twenty-three middle-class youths. Adolescence, 19, 75, 527-38.