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date: 19 April 2024

Deviant Subcultures in European Contextlocked

Deviant Subcultures in European Contextlocked

  • Alexandra Stupperich, Alexandra StupperichCriminalistics, Police Academy of Lower Saxony
  • Helga IhmHelga IhmInvestigative Department, State Bureau of Investigation
  •  and Shannon B. HarperShannon B. HarperDepartment of Sociology, Iowa State University


Since the late 1950s, criminological research has focused on the question of why particular groups are more likely to become involved in criminal and/or deviant behavior. Theories about subcultures start from the premise that smaller sub- or countercultural groupings exist within a larger society and differentiate themselves by developing their own moral precepts, values, and norms. Subcultural theories were originally developed in the United States and have a long theoretical tradition dating back to the 1930s. Structural-functionalist sociologist Albert Cohen in 1955 first used the term, “delinquent subculture.” In his book Criminal Youth, Cohen defined subculture as the sum of dominant knowledge, convictions and beliefs, conventions, preferences, and prejudices within and acquired by participation in the particular group. Deviant behavior arises when these values and norms run counter to those of the dominant culture. Cohen interpreted delinquency as a collective, practical, and quick solution to problems caused by unequal opportunities in the class system. The basic assumption of early subcultural theories was that members of the lower socioeconomic classes established their own value system and norms due to their inability to conform to middle-class values and norms and achieve middle-class goals. Later in the 1970s, subcultural theory was altered and further expanded by the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) at Birmingham University. The CCCS posits that criminal subcultures favor delinquency due to intersecting attitudes such as the rejection of authority, hedonism, or sensation-seeking. Moreover, the relationships between members within a subculture are important due to the shared nature of values, norms, and identities. Regionality is no longer a criterion for a delinquent/criminal subculture due to modern Europe’s high level of mobility and digital networks. Instead, modern delinquent/criminal subcultures utilize social media outlets not limited to region to disseminate their values and norms and establish identity. Islamic fundamentalism and the Reich Citizens and Sovereign Citizens movements are examples of subcultures that utilize the Internet to rapidly spread programs and ideologies in a targeted and simple manner. While earlier subcultural studies tended to explain the relationship between subculture and criminality as due to frustration over social and economic inequality, more recent research argues that subcultural theories need to be macro-level focused. Consequently, recent scholarship frames subcultural criminality as an expression of groups’ social and material life, which are defined by stylistic factors such as intentional communication, homology, and specific (piecemeal) solutions to problems.


  • International Crime

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