Essay on Differential Opportunity Theory of Crime

Essay on Differential Opportunity Theory of Crime

Cloward and Ohlin integrated Sutherland's and Merton's theories and developed a new theory of criminal behaviour in 1960. Whereas Sutherland talks of illegitimate means and Merton talks of differentials in legitimate means, Cloward and Ohlin (Delinquency and Opportunity, 1960) talk of differentials in both legitimate and illegitimate means to success-goals.

The important elements of this theory are: (1) an individual occupies position in both legitimate and illegitimate opportunity structures; (2) relative availability of illegitimate opportunities affects the resolution of an individual's adjustment problems; and (3) faced with limitations on legitimate avenues of access to goals and unable to revise his aspirations downward, he experiences intense frustrations, resulting in the exploration of non-conformist alternatives.

Solving adjustment problems thus depends upon relative access to these systems. If in a given social structure, a person has little or no access to illegal or criminal means, he would not be expected to adopt criminal means to solve his Problems.

Clarence Schrag (1972: 167) systematically organised Cloward and Ohlin's theory and gave its four postulates: (1) middle-class goals, especially economic goals, are widespread, (2) every organised community provides legitimate opportunities for attaining these goals, (3) access to legitimate means varies from class to class, and (4) within a given community, illegitimate opportunities may or may not be available.

But Schrag himself has criticised the theory of Cloward and Ohlin based on the above postulates on two counts: (1) the theory fails to explain why a young person who belongs to the lower class does not become involved in the activities of delinquent gangs, and (2) who will use illegitimate means to achieve goals? Schrag has answered the second question himself.

He says that three types of persons are susceptible to indulging in deviant behaviour or joining delinquent gangs: (1) those who blame the system for their failures and/or adjustment problems, (2) those who think they possess the official criteria but not the pragmatic criteria, and (3) those who are alienated from conventional norms or a legitimate system.

Cloward and Ohlin (ibid., 1960: 50-52) have identified three major types of delinquent subcultures: the criminal, the conflict, and the retreatist. A particular one that emerges in any given socio-cultural setting will be a function of the availability of illegitimate opportunities.

The first is characterised by illegal money-making activities, the second emphasises acts of violence and gun-fighting, and the third emphasises drug use and other 'kicks'.

Criminal subculture tends to arise in lower-class neighbourhood where successful and big-time criminals reside and are also willing to associate with them (juveniles).

Juveniles in this social class do not have conventional role models of successful people who have achieved their success through legitimate channels; but they do have access to criminal success models. The child has an opportunity to actually perform illegitimate roles because such activity finds support in his immediate neighbourhood milieu.

The rewards monetary and other of successful learning and performance are immediate and gratifying. Further, in this subculture, integration of conventional and criminal values also exists. Since the youth 'fix' politicians, police officials and law enforcement officials and seek their support, they maintain necessary relationships with these people.

As a consequence of the integrative relationships, a new opportunity structure emerges, one which permits and facilitates illegitimate instead of legitimate activities.

Conflict subculture is found in areas where there is no alliance between the criminal and the conventional elements. This subculture features violence and/or threat of violence as method of getting status.

In such neighbourhoods, young people tend to organise themselves in a community of gangs contending with one another for 'rap' through a show of violence and toughness.

These areas are populated by failures from conventional society as well as failures from the criminal world. Social controls are also weak in these areas. With no organised way to solve their frustrations, the youth in these areas "seize upon the manipulation of violence as a route to status." In the world of violence, all that is needed is guts and the ability to endure pain.

Retreats subculture is manifested through or in the use of drugs. It is found in areas where either repressive police measures make street-fighting quite dangerous or where moral and other inhibitions against the use of violence exist. Individuals denied access to 'criminal' and 'conflict' opportunities tends to withdraw into a world of narcotic drugs.

Referring to the availability of illegal or criminal means, Cloward and Ohlin have said if there is little or no access to drugs, it is not likely that the retreatist subculture would develop. Similarly, where the means of violence are not available to juveniles, a violence-oriented subculture would most probably not develop.

Short, Tennyson and Rivers have supported Cloward and Ohlin's theory on the basis of their study on the perception of legitimate and illegitimate opportunities pertaining to education and occupation among 500 Negro and white lower-class gang boys and middle-class non-gang boys from the same neighbourhood.

Walter Reckless also undertook a project to examine Cloward's theory. Some of the questions pertaining to the perception of opportunities were: (1) I probably won't be able to do the kind of work that I want to do because I don't have enough education; (2) if a kid like me works hard, he can get a lead; (3) my family can't give me the opportunity that most kids have; (4) most people are better off than I am; (5) I am as well-to-do as most people are; (6) a guy like me has a pretty chance of going to a college. On the basis of the responses received, Reckless found that Cloward's theory is partly correct, that is, it explains some crimes but not all crimes.

The important criticisms against Cloward and Ohlin's theory are:

(1) The main contention of the theory that there are two kinds of opportunities legitimate and illegitimate is not as simple as it seems.

The distinction, although real, is 'analytical' rather than 'concrete', that is, there are not some things that are legitimate opportunities and other things that are illegitimate opportunities, but the same things are always both; for example, notes prepared by students on small pieces of paper when used in examinations become unfair means.

When used a day or two before examinations for remembering important points, these very notes are nothing but legitimate simple means. Similarly, a gun can be used for killing as well as defending oneself.

(2) Cloward and Ohlin maintain that the lower-class youths have two orientations: orientation towards membership in middle-class, called 'lifestyle' orientation, and orientation towards economic improvement, called 'economic' orientation.

Cloward and Ohlin's thesis is that candidates for delinquent subculture are those who wish to retain lower-class membership but aspire to improve their economic status (Cf. Johnson, 1978: 179). Gordon, however, says that these two orientations do not exist separately.

(3) Cloward and Ohlin have not specified the initial conditions for the emergence of various types of subculture.

(4) There is class-bias in this theory.

(5) Clarence Schrag has said that the concepts used in the theory cannot be operationalised; for example, 'opportunity structure', 'perception of opportunity', 'denial of legitimacy', 'double failure', etc.

(6) Personality factor has been completely ignored.