Albert K. Cohen

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Albert K. Cohen (June 15, 1918 - November 25, 2014) was an American criminologist and Professor of Sociology at the University of Connecticut, known for his subcultural theory of delinquent urban gangs, including his influential book Delinquent Boys: Culture of the Gang. In 1993 he received the society's Edwin H. Sutherland award.

Quotes[edit]

  • A comparative social science requires a generalized system of concepts which will enable the scientific observer to compare and contrast large bodies of concretely different social phenomena in consistent terms.
    • David Aberle, Albert K. Cohen, A. K. Davis, Marion J. Levy Jr. and Francis X. Sutton, (1950). T"he functional prerequisites of a society." Ethics, 60(2), p. 100; cited in: Neil J. Smelser (2013), Comparative Methods in the Social Sciences. p. 189
Had much to say concerning crime
And most of what he had to say
Became a book, and so today
The thoughts he had in 1910
Are read by other learned men,
Who then proceed to write a lot
Of books on Durkheim’s life and thought,
And I am sure that someday you
Will write a book or maybe two,
Destined to be widely read,
On what they say that Durkheim said.
  • Albert K. Cohen (1993). "The Social Functions of Crime," at asc41.com. First part of poem presented in his Sutherland Address at the 1993 ASC meetings in Phoenix.

Delinquent Boys: The Culture of the Gang, 1955[edit]

Albert K. Cohen. Delinquent Boys: The Culture of the Gang, New York: The Free Press, 1955.

  • We usually assume that when people steal things, they steal because they want them. They may want them because they can eat them, wear them or otherwise use them; or because they can sell them; or even-if we are given to a psychoanalytic turn of mind because on some deep symbolic level they substitute or stand for something unconsciously desired but forbidden. All of these explanations have this in common, that they assume that the stealing is a means to an end, namely, the possession of some object of value, and that it is, in this sense, rational and utilitarian. However, the fact cannot be blinked-and this fact is of crucial importance in defining our problem-that much gang stealing has no such motivation at all.
    • pp. 24-32
  • It is generally assumed that... register data are more representative than court data, which are the result of a long selective process of complaint, arrest, arraignment and prosecution.
    • p.40
  • In the status game, then, the working-class child starts out with a handicap and, to the extent that he cares what the middle-class persons think of him or has internalised the dominant middle-class attitudes toward social class position, he may be expected to feel some 'shame'.
    • p. 110

Quotes about Albert K. Cohen[edit]

  • In his book Delinquent Boys (1955) Cohen was concerned to answer a number of questions about delinquency that he felt were not satisfactorily dealt with by Merton's strain theory. These questions sought to investigate:
  • Why so much delinquency takes place in gangs or groups - Merton's theory suggests that delinquency occurs as an individual adaptation to strain;
  • Why so much delinquency occurs amongst lower working class young males - although Merton suggested delinquency could occur throughout the class structure, Cohen perceived it to be overly dominated by lower working class young males; and
  • Why so much delinquency appears to be violent, malicious or apparently without benefit to the offender (such as acts of vandalism with no financial gain) - Merton tends to suggest that acts of delinquency are aimed at acquisitive crime.
  • What examples of crimes and acts of delinquency can you think of that might be considered as 'mindless' and further what type of people tend to be the greatest perpetrators of such activities?
The concerns just raised allude to the problem of functionalism, which is evident in Merton's work. As with Durkheim, Merton points to particular underwritten features of social order as providing the source of, and explanation for, deviance. As Durkheim would contend, 'social facts' exist and these need to be appreciated if a full understanding of disorder is to be achieved. For Merton, the 'social fact' that provides the underpinning of his theory of strain is that of consensus with regard to cultural goals, what is constituted by the 'American Dream'. Yet Cohen pointed to expressive forms of deviance and crime that appear to have little to do with self-advancement, acquisition and display of material wealth. Violence, vandalism and criminal damage seemed apparently irrational, given Merton's contention that the objective of deviance was to obtain an improvement in the material wealth.

External links[edit]

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