Pub. date: 2008 | Online Pub. Date: May 28, 2008 | DOI: 10.4135/9781412963930 | Print ISBN: 9781412941655 | Online ISBN: 9781412963930 | Publisher:SAGE Publications, Inc.About this encyclopedia
Illegitimate Opportunity Structures
John P. Hoffmann
During the 1950s two predominant theories of criminal behavior were Edwin H. Sutherland's differential association theory and Robert K. Merton's anomie theory. Sutherland argued that criminal behavior is learned in the same manner as other behaviors; people who are socialized to sanction criminal behavior are likely to become criminals. Merton suggested that criminal behavior results when there is a discrepancy between the goals reinforced by society (e.g., earn a good income) and the institutionalized means for attaining these goals (e.g., complete a good education). Those whose access to legitimate opportunities is blocked in some way, perhaps due to poverty or the unavailability of good schools, may use illegal means to reach culturally valued goals. Richard A. Cloward and Lloyd E. Ohlin agreed that both theories had merit but added that a key channel of access to culturally valued goals was through illegitimate opportunity structures, especially in impoverished inner-city communities where ...