Social, economic, cultural force of criminology


This assignment is designed to assess your ability to a) compare criminological theories and b) apply theories to analyze a specific problem within the field of criminology. You are to use the information collected in your previous assignments to develop your analysis. Also, review the feedback provided in your earlier assignments. The feedback will alert you to issues that you need to pay attention to when writing papers.
For this assignment you will analyze how poverty/SES/structural or class inequality affects why youth join gangs by comparing and contrasting 3 theories:
a. Social Disorganization Theory OR Differential Association Theory
b. Labeling Theory
c. Marxist Theory
More specifically, you are required to:
• Make an argument about which of the three theories most compellingly describes the evidence about why youth join gangs. In so doing, make sure to discuss why the other theories are less persuasive.


A gang is a distinct group of associated young adults, who due to involvement in excessive illegal activities develop a negative image in the eyes of law or society. There can be various reasons that youth these days to join gangs and indulge in illegal activities. The most prominent reasons for youth joining a gang can be poverty, people of low socioeconomic status, class inequality, lack of education, lack of self-control, etc. These factors work at three levels i.e. individual, group and societal level. These factors mold the motives and actions of individual at all the levels. Social, economic, and cultural forces push many adolescents in the direction of gangs. Protection from other gangs and perceived general well-being are key factors. Gang activities are increasing as a result of excess free time and in order to fill the boredom time young children join gangs. Apart from this gang activities are increasing due to poverty. In search of money, youth join gangs to raise their power and indulge in illegal activities to earn money.  
In order to attempt to explain deviance and crime, three main theories have been developed. Differential association theory is one of the social learning theories propounded by Edwin Sutherland(Tittle, Burke and Jackson 1986). He stated differential association theory as a set of nine propositions, which gave three concepts normative conflict, differential association and differential group organization that has helped to define crime at the levels of the society, the individual, and the group. The theory helps us to better understand the subject of youth gang affiliation. Specifically, the theory resolves around how social interactions of an individual affects him/her to join gangs. During the process of social interactions, individuals learn various techniques, motives, and values for criminal behavior and on the other hand how to rationalize their thoughts and actions. The differential association theory defines the learning in the process of social interaction. Therefore, it can be termed as a learning theory.
Differential association theory explains how the lack of parental supervision, poverty/ low socio-economic status can lead to youth joining gangs. Under socialization process, family and family structure play the most promising role. In order to shape the behavior of children, the family administration is most crucial. When there is the lack of proper family structure and parental administration, youth are at a risk of joining gangs. The reason for such results lies in the fact that children expect their parents to teach them on various aspects of life and the way society runs. In order to summarize the theory, we can say that we learn or adopt the behavior of people that are in close proximity to us or with joining a group of people who are already a gang of criminals. Youths with low self-esteem, low confidence, low self-control, low economic status and antisocial behavior tends to join gangs.
Though the theory provided grounds to define deviant behavior and crime, it suffers from various drawbacks. There is a mixed opinion on the theory where one group of scholars highlights and criticize the flaws of the theories, and another group supports the theory. No doubt the theory helps to define the reasons for youth joining gangs, but it suffers from drawbacks which are stated below.
Firstly, the theory propounds that the lower socio-economic status people belonging to disorganized society are more likely to commit crimes. But on the other hand, it is unable to define the reason why crimes are taking place outside the gangs and disorganized neighborhoods. Secondly, the theory does not provide sufficient evidence to explain the influence of social groups or learning. Thirdly, it does not explain why people residing in disorganized society never commits crimes. And lastly, it fails to explain why individuals who move out of disorganized society still continues to commit the crime. It also fails to take into consideration, the role of biological factors in the crime.
The another theory that tries to define the reason why young people join gangs is ‘Labelling Theory.' The theory begin with the assumption that no act is intrinsically criminal. Labelling theory is the theory of how the self-identity and behavior of individuals may be determined or influenced by the terms used to describe or classify them. The theory was given by French Sociologist Emile Durkheim. It posits that the people behave in ways that reflect how others label and rate them. The theory is associated with how social processes of labeling and treating an individual as a criminal instigates him to behave in a deviant manner. The theory mainly focuses on the social interactions and societal reactions that shape individuals. The theory is the most important approaches to understanding the deviant and criminal behavior. The definition of criminality is established by law of the respective country. The law of the country judges why a person is tagged with a deviant label and others are not. 
Labelling theory, however, has many inherent drawbacks. Firstly, the theory states that no act is inherently criminal, and states that acts are considered to be criminal only when society considers it so. Secondly, there is a concept of self-labeling where a person who has committed a murder may never consider himself to be a criminal. Thirdly, the theory lacks empirical adequacy. Lastly, the theory fails to explain the difference in crime rates. 

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The third and most promising theory to explain how poverty and inequality in classes lead to youth joining gangs is the Marxist theory. According to Karl Marx society follows a pattern of domination, submission and struggle between people of two classes (Manders 1975). In the view of Karl Marx, all the societies are divided into two groups or classes known as the ruling class and social class. The ruling class consists of people of high power and high standing who use this power to exploit the people of the social group- people of low standing, low power, and weaker section.
Marx would explain the issue of the gang as an ownership of property. Gangs are formed on the basis people sharing common interests, mind set and motives. There are two classes of people one is ruling class with high standing and high power the other is social class people of low standing(Mayo 1960). They want the power that they believe can only come from selling and distributing drugs to get the power they crave. This would result in class struggle from the gangs with lower class, and other people with higher class. Marx suggested that the powerful will become more powerful by exploiting the poor and owning the resources. They make social class people work for them and they distribute a nominal amount from the capital they earn through their contribution. Thus, poor will remain poor and ruling party will become more powerful(Varughese, Mandel and Pearce 1973). Therefore, Marx suggested social class to unite together and form a group to fight against the evils of ruling class. They should fight for their rights until the gap between the two classes is removed. Instead of lessening and lowering conflict, more is created by gang violence. Marx would label gangs in the subordinate group, trying to obtain the position and power to be in the dominate group. Gangs are part of working class for someone of the dominate group, contributing to the wealth of Capitalists.  
Thus, after discussing all the three theories in advance, we can say that it is the Marxist theory that clearly states why poverty, SES and class inequality affects youth to join gangs. The other two theories do not talk about the formation of groups as a result of poverty, class inequality or low socio-economic society. The first theory i.e. differential association theory works on an individual level and fails to explain the impact of society and socio-economic factors on the behavior and mind set of an individual. It does not work on macro level and thus does not provide evidence of youth forming gangs as a cause of poverty or class inequality. The second theory i.e. labeling theory only establishes the fact that a person will behave in a particular manner if he is labeled so by the society. If the law or society considers him to be a criminal he will behave in that manner. Therefore, there is no proof of how youth form groups based on this philosophy. On the other hand Marxist approach clearly defines the class difference between ruling class and social class and how poverty leads the social class people to unite and form a group/gang that stands against the ruling class thus, indulge themselves in criminal activities in order to save themselves from the exploitation posed by ruling class. The differential association theory works on the micro level and takes into consideration only the personal traits of the individual and his interactions with the society at large. It provides no grounds to base how people of same class join gangs. The theory is rooted in social explanations and assumes society is based on consensus. Labelling theory works on me so level and works upon causes of crime but assumes society is based on conflict. Like differential association theory, it does not provide adequate evidence why youth join gangs. The most compelling theory comes out to be the Marxist approach that works on the macro level and focuses on social relations that affect power/inequality. It too assumes that the society is based on conflict. It also works on how crime is defined rather than who is doing it. Marxist clearly defines how two classes are differentiated in terms of resources and how social class unites to form gangs against the ruling class in order to fight for their rights. In short, we can summarize it is the Marxist approach that explains how poverty and class difference affects youth to join gangs.
In the end, we can conclude that there are several theories that work upon how the individual behaves and how they form gangs, but none of them provides comprehensive evidence about how poverty and class inequality leads to the formation of gangs other than Marxist theory. The factors like poverty, socio-economic society, and class inequality are the factors that work on the macro level. The first two theories work on individual and group level thus covering the only micro and meso level factors. Therefore, they fail to explain the effects of macro-level factors on youth joining gangs. We have discussed earlier that differential association theory is based on individual traits and his interaction with the people in close proximity, his family structure, and parental administration. All these factors work on the micro level . Therefore, the theory fails to do justice with the current topic in hand. The next theory i.e. labeling theory works on how individual behaves and looks upon himself as per label tagged by the society. He starts behaving in the way society addresses him thus ignoring the factors prevailing in the economy. On the other hand, Marxist theory takes into consideration the micro factors responsible for the class formation that ultimately leads to the formation of gangs.

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  • Manders, D. 1975. "Labelling Theory And Social Reality: A Marxist Critique". Critical Sociology 6(1):53-66.

  • Tittle, Charles R., Mary Jean Burke, and Elton F. Jackson. 1986. "Modeling Sutherland's Theory Of Differential Association: Toward An Empirical Clarification". Social Forces 65(2):405.

  • Mayo, H. B. 1960. Introduction To Marxist Theory. 1st ed. New York: Oxford University Press.

  • Varughese, P. N., Ernest Mandel, and Brian Pearce. 1973. "Marxist Economic Theory". Social Scientist 1(10):76.

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