Development Of The Criminal Social Identity Essay Example
Development Of The Criminal Social Identity Essay Example

Development Of The Criminal Social Identity Essay Example

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  • Pages: 14 (3819 words)
  • Published: August 26, 2017
  • Type: Research Paper
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The Creation of the Criminal Social Identity: Nature and Processes

This thesis combines societal identification and self-categorization theories, building upon Emler and Reicher's theory on delinquency as reputation management. It suggests that self-categorization processes are involved in shaping the delinquent group.

The process of self-categorization leads to the development of the delinquent social identity, influenced by contextual factors such as societal attractiveness, coherence, influence, and reputation. Group members primarily interact on an intragroup level rather than an interpersonal level, which contributes to an increased tendency towards delinquent behavior.

The development of criminal social identity

According to Festinger's (1954) social comparison theory, individuals are motivated to reduce uncertainty and maintain consistency by comparing themselves to similar others. During adolescence, the formation of identity is influenced by peer relat


ionships, as recognized by developmental psychologists such as Erikson (1968), Marcia (1967), and Waterman (1985).

Therefore, during adolescence, the demand for societal comparing is heightened. This is a crucial period for the development of one's identity, where the influence from peers plays a significant role. At the same time, a substantial amount of time is dedicated to school activities during this period, and academic performance is closely tied to self-esteem (Purkey, 1970). According to Goethals and Darley (1987), the school environment fosters intense social comparisons, particularly in terms of academic achievement. However, Emler and Reicher's (1995) theory places greater emphasis on the orientation towards authority.

Both academic presentation and normative behavior in schools are crucial for societal comparison. These processes involve social classification, as they are closely linked and impact self-concept. The metacontrast rule of self-categorization clarifies how teenagers establish their group identity through

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these comparisons. This relies on "the degree to which two or more individuals perceive and define themselves based on a shared ingroup-outgroup classification" (Turner, et al. 1987).

Self-categorization theory suggests that the perception of similarities and differences is important for identification and the formation of psychological groups. Group membership has a "psychological" aspect because teenagers' social identity, which is part of their self-concept, can be evident even without physical interaction with other group members. Through social comparison and categorization, two subgroups can be identified within the overall student identity: successful and unsuccessful based on academic ability, and conforming and nonconforming based on attitudes towards authority. Sufficient empirical evidence exists to back up these findings.

Several studies (Lynam, et Al. 1993; Tremblay, et Al. 1992; Zingraff et Al. 1994) have found a correlation between academic proficiency and delinquency. The findings indicate that individuals who excel academically are more inclined to follow societal norms, while those with low academic performance tend to display deviant attitudes towards authority and behavior. Students who struggle in school and do not conform perceive each other as more similar when compared to successful individuals who conform less.

This thesis argues that poor academic performance has a greater impact on self-esteem and non-conformity compared to delinquent behavior. This is because an adolescent's academic performance is more personally relevant to their identity as a student, leading to higher emotional consequences in terms of societal comparisons. Negative societal comparisons in terms of academic ability have a stronger effect on self-esteem and social status within the school, especially in schools that group students based on their academic abilities. Additionally, behavior is highly dependent on the context, and adolescents are

motivated to keep their family and school social worlds separate, as noted by Emler and Reicher (1995) in their interviews.

Unless the school governments report it, the non-conforming behavior of students is unlikely to be noticed by their family members, unlike in school classes. However, their performance in school is likely to be known to the family through periodic appraisals. This further reinforces their already negative identity not only in the school environment but also within the family. Hazelwood's study (1989) shows a connection between low academic ability (academic results below the 25th percentile) and the development of negative attitudes towards school, lack of motivation for lessons, school activities, and desirable careers. On the other hand, high-ability students tended to have more cautious or conservative responses. These findings were replicated 18 months later, using grades obtained in the General Certificate of Education exams.

When a more successful out-group is critically judged, their norms are rejected. As a result, what was previously seen as inconsistent is now considered consistent based on the new norms of the newly-formed in-group. The identity of this new group is established by what it isn't rather than what it is. This leads to adopting opposing characteristics due to limited choices. According to Cohen (1955), rejection helps achieve self-consistency and self-enhancement by turning negative traits into positive ones. More explanation about this process can be found in the subsequent section. In certain situations, when their social identity becomes prominent, a group of more successful students tend to identify themselves as members of a specific group.

According to Ellemers (1993), the group designation of individuals is influenced by their higher position and the greater impermeableness of

group boundaries. This serves as a protective measure and becomes particularly noticeable when the group feels threatened. Conversely, failures and non conforming pupils have a group designation that is facilitated by the low status, high stability, and perceived impermeability of their group. These individuals are unlikely to move to a higher position group due to their individual academic abilities and intelligence, which tend to be relatively stable. As time goes on, the boundaries between these groups are likely to become more impermeable as members become categorized, labeled, and rejected by each other.

According to Mummendey and Schreiber (1983), the group of failures and non-conforming individuals are more likely to exhibit out-group favoritism. Out-group favoritism occurs when this particular group attains positive ratings at the expense of the out-group. The categorization of these failures and non-conforming students as a group has both cognitive and emotional foundations. In accordance with social identity theory, this group provides its members with an alternative social identity and enhances their self-esteem.

The Positive Distinctiveness of Criminal Social Identity

On an individual level, students who have failed in school and do not conform perceive themselves as being more inconsistent regarding their "higher" identity as students. Consequently, they experience a sense of discrepancy between their actual selves and ideal selves (Higgins, 1987), leading to feelings of unrest or depression.

This supports the perspective of strain theorists (Agnew, 1993) that not achieving goals, particularly good grades in school, leads to frustration and anger. These negative emotions like self-deprecation, frustration, anger, jealousy, resentment, and hostility (Crosby, 1976; Salovey and Rodin, 1984) can be exacerbated by familial factors such as lack of warmth from parents, parental

rejection, and an oppressive parenting style (Patterson et al., 1989; Simon et al., 1991; Shaw and Scott, 1991). The absence of parental warmth and affection can impede the development of empathy and guilt (Baumeister et al., 1994), further isolating adolescents from their parents while disrupting social control bonds (Hirschi, 1969) and diminishing motivation to strive for academic success or comply with school authority.

These adolescents have a negative identity. According to a study by Downs and Rose (1991) on school peer groups, 25% of these groups are abnormal because they do not participate in school activities and exhibit non-conforming behaviors. These particular peers are rejected by their peers and experience more psychosocial issues compared to students from the other three groups. Furthermore, this group also has lower self-esteem measures.

The literature on equal relationships (Parker and Asher, 1987; Juvonen, 1991) indicates that rejection has serious effects such as low self-esteem, the development of aggressive inclinations, a higher risk of dropping out of school, and engaging in delinquent behaviors. Rejection, whether real or perceived, serves as a basis for grouping individuals who mutually reject each other. In other words, rejection can both cause and result from self-classification. Thus, the negative identity resulting from inconsistency applies not only to individual students who consistently perform poorly in school and display non-conforming attitudes and behavior, but also to the entire group. These group members also face the issue of a lower social status in school compared to the successful and conformist students. The individualistic strategies proposed by social comparison theory to achieve consistency or enhance self-esteem, as well as some of the group strategies suggested by social identity theory, are not

effective for individuals who are extremely inconsistent in terms of academic performance and social relationships. Social comparison researchers (Salovey and Rodin, 1988; Tesser, 1991) discuss various self-enhancement strategies when confronted with negative evaluations.

The text suggests that attempts to change self-definition, minimize successful individuals, avoid comparing, and alter norms have failed to recognize the importance of one's societal individuality. These schemes do not explain how individuals who do not meet normative expectations can achieve a sense of self-consistency. The text argues that this can only be possible within a group or societal identity that rejects norms and creates new ones. Therefore, what is needed is a group strategy that promotes self-consistency through alignment with one's societal identity.

The importance of repute, societal individuality, and the ego is emphasized by Emler and Hopkins in their 1990 paper. They discuss two concepts from societal individuality theory known as "societal alteration" - a change in group rank and societal competition (Tajfel and Turner, 1979, 1986). These concepts apply to individuals who do not adhere to expected norms in multiple aspects.

According to Masters and Keil (1987), for social competition to be effective, the overall outcome of multiple and diverse comparisons should follow a linear pattern rather than a compensatory one. However, neither of these options are practical. It is improbable that changing group rank would lead to success as individuals would likely struggle to adjust to the new group. Social competition is only suitable when the chances of success outweigh those of failure. In a group with academically weak members, failure is more probable than success.

The process of organizing a subgroup within the broader social identity of "student" involves non-conforming and

less successful adolescents adopting the strategy of "social creativity" to achieve a heightened sense of self-esteem, according to social identity theory (Oakes and Turner, 1980; Lemrye and Smith, 1985). This increased self-esteem is achieved through their positive distinctiveness. This positive distinctiveness is marked by a rejection and reversal of conventional norms, where what is conventionally considered positive and valued is redefined as negative and derogated, and vice-versa (Cohen, 1955). Therefore, their non-conforming behaviors, which involve aggression, are seen as desirable. This leads to social competition being played out on new dimensions, including acts of aggression against members of rival groups.

Breakwell's (1986) research on endangered identities indicates that individuals have the ability to resist societal pressures that connect specific identity characteristics with negative judgments. Rather than accepting the detrimental or inferior connotations related to these attributes, individuals possess the capability to assign them a positive significance. Nonetheless, accomplishing this task individually can be challenging as the process of re-evaluating these traits is subjective and personal.

Another method, as stated on page 105, could be to persuade others to alter their viewpoints. This approach fosters a common understanding among individuals who have collectively dismissed conventional norms. McGarty et al. (1993) demonstrated that this can result in reduced uncertainty and potentially contribute to the self-improvement described in Kaplan's research (Kaplan, 1978, 1980; Kaplan et al.).

In this context, both 1986 and 1987 are significant years. Fischer and Bersani (1979) state that a specific group of young individuals may engage in delinquent behaviors without feeling degraded. Conversely, McCarthy and Hoge (1984) found that individuals who maintain strong connections with their family and school tend to experience low self-esteem after committing delinquent

acts. Anthropological evidence supports the idea that identity formation occurs through rejection and reputation. Campbell's (1987) study focused on female Puerto Rican gang members, examining social identity. The study revealed that these girls perceive themselves as different from their peers, using their gang association to publicly declare their rejection of societal expectations. Their sense of self stems from belittling others.

Thus, they define themselves by attributing characteristics that differentiate them from others. Consequently, their self-perception is formed through exclusion and negation, and their alternative standards contradict the traditional ones. In essence, these standards are inherently rebellious. Additionally, Campbell's research also reinforces Emler and Reicher's (1995) emphasis on the significance of managing reputation in acts of delinquency.

In his 1955 book on delinquent male children, Cohen (1990) documents the development of groups or collectivities, which is discussed as part of the subcultural theory of delinquency in Chapter Two. According to Breakwell (1986), behavior serves as a social expression of identity. Accessing someone's identity can only be achieved through their actions, whether verbal or non-verbal.

Since individuality encompasses emotions, beliefs, and attitudes, it serves as a significant motivator for individuals to take action. Identity plays a crucial role in guiding actions. The conventional group is devalued and no longer holds much importance as a benchmark for comparison. Social comparisons also occur on different dimensions. There are conflicts between competing delinquent groups to determine which group is tougher since endurance has become the newly valued trait that can be attained. Maintaining consistency within oneself becomes a matter of reputation and management according to Emler and Reicher (1990; Emler and Reicher, 1995). They argue that delinquent behaviors remain consistent once a delinquent

reputation has been established.

A theoretical account of delinquency as a merchandise of societal comparing procedures and group designation proposed by this thesis is summarized and presented in Figure 7.1. The procedures involved in classification, group formation and designation which leads to the development of the delinquent societal individuality are summarized in Figure 7.2.

Context-dependent nature of condemnable individualities

The situational theory of delinquency ( Sykes and Matza, 1957 ; Matza, 1964 ) postulates that delinquents tend to float in and out of non conforming behavior ( Chapter Two, Section 2.13 ) . Under certain fortunes, striplings can be expected to detect conventional norms, but non when they are in the company of the equal group which encourages delinquent behavior.

According to this theory, adolescents use techniques of neutralization to justify their behaviors in order to reduce feelings of guilt or shame. However, Matza and Sykes have not explained why or how peers encourage or influence delinquent behavior. This is explained by the concept of "depersonalization" and saliency in self-categorization theory (Turner, 1985; Oakes, 1987). Delinquent behaviors only occur when the delinquent identity is prominent. In committing delinquent acts, members behave as interchangeable units of a group (Cohen, 1990). Any harm or wrongdoing done to one member is seen as affecting all members who share that identity.

Adolescents tend to engage in more delinquent behavior when they are in the presence of fellow group members who share similar characteristics. This can also occur when they are in the presence of individuals from a different group, even without physical proximity. What is important is the psychological connection with their own group compared to the

out-group. The out-group could be a group of conforming students, such as school prefects, or another delinquent group that poses a threat to their positive identity or challenges their status. Therefore, it can be inferred that teenagers are less likely to have anti-authority attitudes as individuals within their family, compared to when they are part of delinquent in-group members within society. Different social contexts will also result in varying levels of shame, guilt, and self-pride.

Both social individuality and self-categorization theories present a different interpretation of Braithwaite's (1989) concept of mutuality and reintegration. According to Braithwaite, mutuality refers to the degree to which individuals participate in interconnected networks where they rely on others to achieve valued goals and others rely on them. In discussing reintegrative shaming, Braithwaite's theory touches upon issues of personal and societal identities, showing similarities with social individuality and self-categorization theories as well as Emler and Reicher's (1995) theory of delinquency as reputation management. However, the social identity and self-categorization perspective expands the concept of mutuality beyond the frameworks of social coherence to that of societal identification. Feeling shame arises from not aligning with one's societal identity.

Shame is experienced within the context of one's societal identity and among one's in-group members. This is referred to as "mutuality" by Braithwaite and "exchangeability" by self-categorization theory. Therefore, if teenagers who commit a offense still maintain respect for their parents, teachers, or schoolmates, they may feel ashamed and not want to repeat the offense. This allows for the re-establishment of consistency within their family and social identity, and forgiveness and reconciliation are possible. However, problems arise when stigmatization leads teenagers to reject their relationship with a

group that is no longer seen as the in-group. The literature on delinquency explores how poor relationships with family and school contribute to delinquent behavior. According to the social control theory, these teenagers, who have weakened ties with family and school, no longer view them as important or relevant.

These young individuals have come to value consistency and reputation in their new delinquent social identity. As a result, disrespecting family members, classmates, and teachers may have little impact. Following Cohen's subcultural theory, what was once considered negative is now seen as something to take pride in when it comes to their delinquent social identity. Braithwaite's program of reintegrative shaming, which involves shaming conferences where wrongdoers meet their victims in the presence of individuals who have close relationships with them, has proven to be effective (Abjorensen, 1995; "Jail fails", 1995; Lim, 1996).

The effectiveness of reintegration in shaming conferences can be attributed to the fact that delinquents are shamed in front of people they share a mutual connection with. These dishonoring conferences provide opportunities for interactions at both the interpersonal and intergroup levels within the societal environment. The presence of non-family members in the conference makes the delinquent's family social identity more prominent, while interpersonal relationships within the family are strengthened as parents are no longer perceived solely as authoritative figures and the teenager does not identify with other delinquents. Reintegration also presents an alternative for a positive identity. Additionally, the guilt-induction aspect of shaming, rather than humiliation, shifts the focus from the self to the victim, further defining the situation in an interpersonal context, regardless of the presence of other delinquent members (Tangney et al., 1992).

In summary,

when the delinquent societal individuality becomes prominent, members of the group conform to and reinforce delinquent norms and behaviors. This leads to an escalation of delinquent behaviors or a transformation of non-conforming acts to delinquent ones. The members of the delinquent group do not need to persuade or influence others to have anti-social values or commit delinquent acts, as social influence occurs through identification and self-categorization as a member of the delinquent group. Studies by Klein and Crawford (1968) and Pabon et al. (1992) highlight the importance and nature of the delinquent societal individuality described by self-categorization theory.

According to Klein and Crawford, the delinquent group members feel a sense of belongingness, which is an intergroup characteristic. Pabon and his co-workers found that members lack familiarity and fondness in terms of intimate relationships. Self-categorization theory helps to explain Thornberry et al.'s findings that delinquents are more delinquent when they are in a group. The saliency of the delinquent societal identity polarizes the in-group norm, resulting in behaviors that lean towards the archetypal. The saliency of the delinquent identity thus both facilitates and enhances delinquent behaviors.

According to Hogg and Turner (1987), it is not necessary for an out-group to be present in order for individuality to be prominent. The views held by non in-group members can be considered as those belonging to an implicit out-group.


This thesis integrates the main theoretical model in delinquency research with concepts in social identity and self-classification theories. It addresses the three issues of the processes involved in the development of a negative identity, the role of the peer group in facilitating delinquent behavior, and the nature of delinquent social identity. The thesis

proposes that adolescents become delinquents because of an enduring negative identity, which originates from societal comparisons. Negative social comparisons in school, mainly based on academic performance, and compounded by factors in dysfunctional families result in jealousy, frustration, anger, shame, guilt, self-deprecation, and resentment. These underlying factors contributing to the negative identity have been explained by strain and social control theories.

Societal comparisons create perceived differences, leading to the categorization of students into two groups: consistent and successful, and inconsistent and failures. Labeling the latter group as delinquents explains their association with each other, forming a subculture. Stigmatizing rejection and labeling procedures solidify boundaries between the two groups, maintaining the low societal position of the inconsistent group. Joining the delinquent group is the only way for these individuals to gain some level of self-esteem as part of a group.

Its positive characteristic is determined by the reversal of traditional norms, which become necessarily deviant. By doing so, members achieve a sense of consistency within themselves, which becomes established as reputation. The changing importance of deviant societal individuality explains Matza's concept of motivation and resolves the apparent contradiction between the theories of Sykes and Matza, and Cohen. It also explains the nature of relationships among members of the deviant group, which, despite lacking familiarity or affection, is marked by a strong sense of belongingness. The model suggests an old-fashioned explanation for the gender and age differences in delinquency; why rates tend to peak around 14 to 15 years old and why more males tend to commit delinquent acts compared to females, as noted by Emler and Reicher (1995) and Braithwaite (1989). At the age of 14, most adolescents would

have completed two years of high school education and would be fairly confident in their academic abilities as well as the likelihood of future successes or failures.

At this stage of adolescence, their pupil's individuality - whether positive or negative - would have been relatively stable. As a result, those with a negative individuality are more likely to choose a group as a coping strategy instead of relying on individual schemes. In other words, younger teenagers are still in the process of trying to cope using individual strategies rather than "social creativity". Emler and Reicher (1995) also observed that rates of delinquency decrease after students leave school. They argue that this may be because the likelihood of students being in the company of others as a group diminishes.

The decrease in rates during autumn may be due to adolescents having additional opportunities for positive individuality through employment or vocational education outside of school. These options can be seen as ways to achieve higher status or interpersonal respect. In Singapore, for example, only 7.6% of pack members are enrolled in the Institute of Technical Education and the Polytechnics, compared to 92.4% in secondary schools (Singapore Police Force, 1996). Emler and Reicher (1995) argue that girls are less likely to have anti-authority attitudes and behaviors due to traditional gender roles, which may explain the lower rates of delinquency among females. Another factor could be that girls who struggle in school have the positive option of becoming a housewife, which is not seen as a viable role for boys.

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