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The Study of Deviant Subcultures as a Longstanding and Evolving Site of Intersecting Membership Categorizations

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Intersectional scholarship has become increasingly important, largely because it is more nuanced than scholarship emphasizing only class, race, or gender. Much intersectional scholarship is limiting, however, in curtailing our conceptualizations of how many intersecting identities might be relevant for explaining crime. The older literature on deviant subcultures, including gang studies, actually addressed issues of intersectionality, and in a less restrictive manner, also acknowledging the importance of youth and neighborhood ecology. Drawing on early and more recent subcultural scholarship, the theoretical importance of Weberian and ethnomethodological themes is illustrated, suggesting the value of closely empirical research sensitive to theoretical issues including how social categories are used in explaining crime and how patterns of offending are carried by individuals subject to categorization.

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  1. The quote is from the first edition of Parsons’ The Structure of Social Action (1937) specifically the essay “The Role of Ideas in Social Action,” reprinted in Parsons (1954).

  2. While it is well beyond the scope of this paper to examine the historical or biographical factors which led Merton to identify his famous analysis of deviance in terms of anomie rather than in other terms reflecting some of the other resources drawn upon in his analysis, it certainly makes good professional sense when given a choice between emphasizing alternative traditions of social thought, for a sociologist to cite Durkheim’s notion of anomie, which had already been adapted to sociological research on deviance and had already been accepted as a topic in the ascendant positivistic tradition of social science, rather than, e.g., Freudian psychoanalytic theory or Weber’s obscure, pessimistic sociology of religion, drawing on comparative historical methods and cultural analysis.

  3. The ethnomethodological attention to multiple category incumbency in this context also bears some interesting similarities with a central insight of Wirth’s influential early article on culture conflict and misconduct, that scholars should investigate delinquency with reference to the existence of multiple group memberships and the individual interpretations and adaptations which manage these issues, illustrated through members’ “naïve utterances” (Wirth 1931: 490), i.e., vernacular, practical language use.


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I have tried in these observations and arguments to effectively apply insights on deviance, identity, theory, and method which stem in large part from the scholarship of Jeff Coulter, and to continue a tradition of ethnomethodologically informed scholarship on crime, deviance, and criminal justice which includes the work of Egon Bittner, Aaron Cicourel, Harold Garfinkel, and scores and scores of others, past and present. Thanks to Bob Garot and James Messerschmidt for thoughtful comments.

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Correspondence to T. J. Berard.

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Berard, T.J. The Study of Deviant Subcultures as a Longstanding and Evolving Site of Intersecting Membership Categorizations. Hum Stud 37, 317–334 (2014).

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