By David Smith (auth.)
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Hence, according to Cohen, the non-utilitarian character of most delinquency: instead of being rationally acquisitive, it is expressive and impulsive, emphasising short-term pleasures and thrills rather than long-term material gain, and the typical offences are vandalism, fighting and joyriding. Thus in Cohen's as well as Merton's account, the American virtue of ambition, expressed as high aspirations, paradoxically produces the American vice of criminality. Where Cohen develops the approach beyond Merton is in giving it a less individualistic emphasis; for Cohen, the deviant adaptation to anomie is not the response of an individual under strain but a culturally available resource within poor urban neighbourhoods.
Control theorists can, however, point to other work that strongly supports their predictions about the relationship between delinquency and family and other ties. For example, Haines ( 1990) argues that the evidence on reconviction of people released from prison supports control theory, in that those with the strongest and most supportive family ties have the lowest reconviction rates. In the field of juvenile delinquency, which the original theories were largely designed to explain, Harriet Wilson's work in Birmingham found a close association between intensity of parental supervision ('chaperonage') and delinquency: strict parenting produced lower rates of delinquency among children in a deprived inner city area, although this was achieved at a cost, certainly to the parents, in terms of time and energy, and possibly to the children, in terms of progress to independence (Wilson, 1980).
This is implausible because for most people most serious crimes are simply unthinkable: we do not find ourselves calculating the costs and benefits of murder or armed robbery, because the thought of committing such acts simply does not occur to us (Braithwaite, 1989). Furthermore, by failing to consider what different kinds of deviance might mean to different people, control theory gives very little by way of an account of what might lead some people to one kind of crime rather than another. Among other things, it lacks what subcultural theories are intended to provide: an explanation of how opportunities for different forms of crime become available and can be sustained over time.