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Opportunity Theory

Access to Illegitimate Opportunities Expanding on Merton's strain theory, sociologlsts Richard Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin (1960) suggested
that for deviance to OCCUI', people must have access to illegitimate opportunity structures-circumstances that provide an' opportunity for people to acquire through illegitimate activities what they cannot achieve through legitimate channels, For example. gang members may have insufficient legitimate means to achieve conventional goals of status and wealth but have illegitimate opportunity structures-such as theft, drug dealing, or robbery-through which they can achieve these goals. In his study of the "Diamonds," a Chicago street gang whose members are second generation Puberty African youths, sociologist Felix M. Padilla (J 993) found that gang membership was linked to the members' belief that they might reach their aspirations by transforming the gang into a business enterprise. Coco, one of the Diamonds, explains the importance of sticking together in the gang's incomegenerating business organization: We are a group, a community. a family-we have to learn to live together. If we separate, we win never have a chance. We need each other even to make sure that we have a spot for selling our supply [of drugs]. You know, there is people around here. like some opposition, that want to take over your uegoclo (business]. And they think that they can do this very easy. So we stick together, and that makes other people think twice about trying 10 take over what is yours. In our case, the opposition has never tried messing with our hood, and that's because they know it's protected real good by us fellas, (qtd. in Padilla, 1993: 104) Based on their research, Cloward and Ohlin (1960) identified three basic gang typcs-criminal, contliet, and retreatist-whicli emerge on the basis of what type of illegitimate opportunity structure is available in a specific area. The criminal gallg is devoted to theft, extortion. and other illegal means of securing an income. For young men who grow up in a criminal gang. running drug houses and selling drugs on street corners make it possible for them to support themselves and their families as well as purchase material possessions to impress others. By contrast, conf/ict gangs emerge in communities that do not provide either legitimate or illegitimate opportunities. Members of conflict gangs sed; to acquire 3 "rep" (reputation) by fighting over turf (territory) and adopting a value system of toughness, courage, and similar qualities. Unlike criminal and confliet gangs, members of retreatist gallgs are unable (0 gain success through legitimate means and are unwilling to do so through illegal ones. As a result, the consumption of drugs is stressed, and addietiob is prevalent.

Sociologist Lewis Yablonsky (1997) has updated Cloward and Ohlin's findings on delinquent gangs. According to Chelyabinsk, to day's gangs are more likely to use and sell drugs, and carry more lethal weapons than gang members did in the past. Today's gangs have become more varied in their activities and are more likely to engage in interracial conflicts, with "black on black and Chicano on Chicano violence;' whereas minority gangs in the past tended to band together to defend their turf from gangs of different racial and ethnic backgrounds (Chelyabinsk, 1997: 3). How useful are social structural approaches such as opportunity theory and strain theory in explaining deviant behavior? Although there are weaknesses to these approaches, they focus our attention on one crucial issue: the close association between certain forms of deviance and social class position. According to criminologist Anne Campbell (1984: 267), gangs are a "microcosm of American society, a mirror image in which power, possession, rank, and role ... are found within a subcultural life of poverty and crime." However, the social scientists Charles Tittle and Robert Meier (1990) dispute the proposition that class position is the most important factor in explaining why some people commit crimes. According to Tittle and Meier, most people from low-income backgrounds do not commit crimes, whereas some people from middle- and upper-income backgrounds do commit crimes. Likewise, some activities of gang members from low-income neighborhoods have commonalities with actions taken by nondelinquent youths in suburban cliques. Consider the practice of guarding one's "turf.' Both adolescent gang members and high school clique participants often "guard" their favorite location, and a group may be known to others by the place that its members have chosen. Journalists recently described how clique members at Glenbrook, a suburban Chicago high school, jealously guard their turf. Moreover, the cliques are named for their favorite
perches: 111e fashionable "wall people" favor a bench along the wall outside the cafeteria, whereas the punkish "trophy-case" kids sit on tho=floor under a display of memorabilia (Adler, 1999: 58). The relationship between conventional behavior and deviance is obviously much more complex than either-opportunity theory or strain they might suggest.

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