This essay will focus on the article “The Saints and the Roughnecks” by William Chambliss. It will demonstrate relevant sociological theories, perspectives and other key concepts captured in the study. The theories addressed are social learning theory, social strain theory and rational choice theory.
Sutherland’s theory of social learning addresses the problem of white-collar criminality, which is a part of organized crime. The theory states that learned criminal behavior allows individuals to see criminal activities within the context of normative behavior. The Saints, a gang of youths take delinquent activities as normal behavior. They use the school and town environment to engage in delinquent behavior. Their self-image in the community easily allows them to get away with their deviant behaviors (Henslin, 2010).
Akers further points that differential organization is a factor that can explain individual criminal behavior, but can also explain how communities are differentially promoting deviant or no-deviant behavior (Akers, 2009). The society’s view of the Saints and the Roughnecks is quite different.
Community sees the Saints as morally upright boys but only out of lark. Their performances in school are excellent, which help to conceal their deviant behavior. On the other hand, the society sees the Roughnecks as headed for trouble. Their performance at school is not pleasant. Both gangs engage in criminal activities, but the society treats them differently.
The basis for individual participation in criminal groups and the crime committed is a product of a learning environment. People learn to understand criminal organizations and activities as normative. Individual’s experiences and learning environment in different ways promote deviance or non-deviance behavior. The Saints and the Roughnecks obtain their delinquent behavior from their immediate environments.
In social strain theory,Agnew argues that the disjuncture between positively valued goals, opportunities, and ability to achieve those goals results into crime (Agnew, 1992). He identifies some strain, which force individuals into crime-coping activities such as low social control, and unjust society, which creates some urge or motivation to engage in criminal-coping activities.
The strains created can lead to negative emotions, low social control, and social learning of criminal behavior. Social pressure makes the Roughnecks engage in delinquency. They are not rich boys, not well mannered, readily violent, and not performing well at school. Agnew characterizes criminal groups as appealing to those experiencing social strain. The Roughnecks use delinquency as a way to gain status and success in society.
The central premise of rational choice theory is that criminals make decisions for maximizing gains in criminal engagements. Levels of engagements in criminal activities differ depending on “the risk, effort, and rewards”. A person will choose the course of action that gives the best or highest returns on time and effort (Cornish and Clarke, 2002).
Factors attributed to background of the gangs such as a psychological state of the minds, upbringing and demographic profile limit the decisions of the gangs to engage in crime. Limited predisposition and information rationally control delinquency among the gangs.
Criminals consider crime as a rational course of action. Returns gained from engaging in delinquent activities extremely influence the behavior and activities of both gangs. Background factors of the gangs, to a greater extent, influenced the findings of the study. The community, school and the police reacted differently to these two sets of gangs.
William studied two sets of gangs operating in the same environment and got totally different results. The townspeople, the community and the police have different perspectives of the gangs. The environment, social upbringing, social status and other factors make the gangs engage in criminal activities at different degrees and for different purposes. Gangs use delinquency to achieve a given purpose in life.
Agnew, R. (1992). Foundation for a general strain theory of crime and delinquency. Criminology, 30 , 47–87.
Akers, R. L. (2009). Social Learning and Social Structure: A General Theory of Crime and Deviance. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.
Cornish, D. B. and Clarke, R. V. (2002). Analyzing Organized Crime. In A. R. Piquero, Rational Choice and Criminal Behavior: Recent Research and Future Challenges. New York, NY: Routledge.
Henslin, J. M. (2010). Essentials of Sociology: A Down-to-Earth Approach (9th Ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Allyn & Bacon.