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Discovering disorder: young people and delinquency
Discovering disorder: young people and delinquency

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5 Conclusion

In this course, you studied the issue of juvenile delinquency and how this youthful misbehaviour can be studied. The authors focused on two main approaches, each of which starts with a different question: one approach tries to identify the causes of delinquency to answer the question of what makes some individuals but not others behave badly; the other approach changes the question to focus on why and how some behaviours but not others become defined as delinquent. Answer the following questions in Activity 12 to develop your understanding of different aspects of this course.

Activity 12

Timing: Suggested time allocation: about 40 minutes


Behaviour that breaks the current laws of the country


Status offences such as underage drinking or truanting from school


Behaviour that breaks social norms or expectations

The correct answers are a, b and c.


Juvenile delinquency can include all of those aspects listed above. It is a complex term: it is not static but can change over time in response to changing expectations of what is acceptable. Who gets to define what counts as delinquency is also important to consider.


There are three personality dimensions: extroversion, neuroticism and psychoticism.


Personality has a biological basis.


Criminals score at the higher end of each of Eysencks’s scales in comparison to non-offenders.


Certain risk factors, such as family background or low intelligence, can be identified which are associated with the potential for criminal or deviant behaviour.


The link between personality and deviant or criminal behaviour was due to differences in learning during childhood.

The correct answers are a, b, c and e.


  • All of the above claims are part of Eysenck’s theory apart from the claim that it is possible to identify certain risk factors associated with the potential for criminal or deviant behaviour. This claim, by contrast, is associated with the Cambridge Study of Delinquent Development and Farrington’s Cognitive Antisocial Potential Theory.
  • Eysenck began by identifying two personality dimensions – extraversion and neuroticism – but later added a third dimension, psychoticism.
  • He claimed there was a biological basis for personality and people’s score on the different scales related to levels of arousal from the nervous system.
  • He argued that criminals would score at the higher end of each of the scales in comparison to offenders. Those who scored higher found it more difficult to learn right and wrong behaviours during childhood thereby demonstrating a link between personality and deviant or criminal behaviour.

3. Which of the following concepts did each of the authors below use in their theories?

Using the following two lists, match each numbered item with the correct letter.

  1. Moral panics

  2. Labelling

  • a.Stanley Cohen

  • b.Howard Becker

The correct answers are:
  • 1 = a
  • 2 = b


Cohen used the concept ‘moral panic’ to show how certain behaviours or groups of people become defined as a threat to society by the mass media and figures of authority such as judges, police offices and politicians. A moral panic is a press campaign, driven by the media and authority figures, which labels negatively a section of society.

Howard Becker used the concept of labelling to show that:

  • The only difference between a ‘normal’ group and a ‘deviant’ group was that the latter had been ‘labelled’ as deviant/criminal. This meant that some in the normal group might have done exactly the same things but had simply not been labelled as deviant while some in the deviant group might have been wrongly labelled.
  • Some people and some behaviours are identified as criminal or deviant because social groups label them as such.
  • When labelled in particular ways, individuals can start to live up to the label and being labelled can affect how others treat such individuals

4. Stanley Cohen also used the term ‘folk devils’ to describe the ways in which groups of young people were demonised. Can you think of any examples of current ‘folk devils’ that might fit Cohen’s theory?

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Labels such as ‘yobs’, ‘neds’, ‘chavs’, ‘ladettes’ and ‘scroungers’ are all used to demonise generally young and male people in society, although ‘ladettes’ refers, of course, to young women, and ‘scroungers’ is a term which has been used more generally to refer negatively to individuals who claim some kind of state benefit.

You may well have come up with different terms – labels like the ones above can change frequently and can differ between regions and different age groups too – but the important point about these terms is that they portray the people concerned as distinct evil beings rather than as human beings who live in the real social world and do things for reasons.

5. Stuart Hall and colleagues extended Cohen’s work and identified the ‘mugger’ as the new folk devil in the 1970s. Drop the phrases below into the correct boxes below to show how Stuart Hall et al. described the steps towards the creation of a ‘law and order society’.

Using the following two lists, match each numbered item with the correct letter.

  1. Mass media and figures of authority create a moral panic

  2. Mugger becomes defined as folk devil

  3. Creation of a moral panic requires that society needs protection through tougher policing

  4. Mugging deflects attention away from real political and social tensions

  • a.4.

  • b.1.

  • c.3

  • d.2.

The correct answers are:
  • 1 = b
  • 2 = d
  • 3 = c
  • 4 = a


The above description is a simplification of the processes by which a ‘law and order’ society is created. Stuart Hall et al. argued that the mass media, with the help of authority figures such as politicians, judges and the police, create a moral panic by labelling certain individuals as ‘muggers’ who then became the new folk devil of the 1970s. As social and political anxiety grew, this allowed politicians to step in to argue that society needed to be protected from the ‘mugger’ through tougher policing and a generally stronger state. In so doing, mugging deflected attention away from genuine social and political tensions and led to the creation of a ‘law and order’ society.