Richard Cloward & Lloyd Ohlin

Richard CLOWARD & Lloyd OHLIN

Richard Cloward began his academic career in the late 1950’s.

His first published work was a well-received revision of Merton’s theory of anomie titled, Illegitimate Means, Anomie, and Deviant Behavior.

Cloward, along with Lloyd Ohlin, expanded upon this revision and developed a theory of delinquent gangs in, what is perhaps his most influential work, Delinquency and Opportunity.

This theory of delinquent gangs is credited with spawning one of the largest delinquency prevention programs in U.S. history (Short, 1975). The program, Mobilization for Youth, focused on expanding the legitimate opportunities afforded to young people in an effort to decrease deviant behavior.

It was this application of the Cloward and Ohlin theory that was adopted by the larger social reform movement known as the Great Society or the War on Poverty (Short, 1975). Given the importance of Cloward’s modified anomie theory it is important to place the theory within its larger social, historical and political context in an effort to understand why it had such an influence on society and academia.

Developments from within the field of Sociology undoubtedly had a significant impact on the work of Richard Cloward. First and foremost was the influence of Robert Merton. Merton supervised Coward’s original revision of his theory of anomie (Short, 1975) and provided researchers with a middle range theory that could be applied directly to social problems of the day (Pfohl, 1994).

The work and sentiments expressed by C. Wright Mills in The Sociological Imagination paved the way for sociologist to take a more proactive role in public policy and influenced researchers to combine theory building with practical research (Mill, 1959). James Short (1975) also credits Whyte’s Street Corner Society with influencing the research of Richard Cloward, stating that Street Corner Society produced one of the first micro-level examinations of deviant groups. A theme that is expressed in Cloward and Ohlin’s theory of gang structure and the subsequent effects on different types of deviant behavior (Cloward and Ohlin, 1959).

Another development within sociology was the rise in governmental demand for applied social research. This phenomenon is well documented in Simpson’s (1994) Science of Coercion. Simpson describes the process by which government came to play such an important role in the development of Communication’s research from 1945-1960. Pfohl argues that this demand for applied social research intensified following WWII as government came to play a much larger role in the social welfare of its citizens. He goes on to say that the increase in demand came with the stipulation that sociological theories must be able to directly address social problems. Given these conditions, Pfohl argues, it is not surprising that Merton’s theory, and Cloward’s revision of it, caught on when it did. Cloward and Ohlin’s theory of delinquency not only provided clear directives for addressing the problem of delinquency but it also fit nicely with core American values, namely egalitarianism (Pfohl, 1994).

As already noted, the work of Cloward and Ohlin had a significant effect on the fight against juvenile delinquency in the 1960’s (Short, 1975). However, this leap from theory to policy would not have developed if the political climate had not been conducive to liberal polices. Cloward and Ohlin’s theory of delinquency and deviant behavior came to fruition under the liberal Kennedy administration (Pfohl, 1994).

It is noted that while Cloward and Ohlin’s research only relates to juvenile delinquency it has been applied to all forms of deviant behavior, not just that of juveniles (Short, 1975). This observation begs the question, why did Cloward and Ohlin only focus their attention on juvenile delinquency? The answer to this can be found by looking at the social climate during the 1950’s. James Gilbert (1986) documents the rise of concern over juvenile delinquency that took place after WWII. It is probable that this overriding public concern influenced the direction of Cloward and Ohlin’s research.

There are many factors that influenced the popularity and application of Richard Cloward's revised theory of anomie. They include political, social, and historical conditions that proved conducive to the adoption of the ideas put forward by Richard Cloward, first in 1958 and then in collaboration with Lloyd Ohlin in 1959. Certainly there are others not documented here. One could trace the development of criminological theory back to the Chicago school. Or argue that the advent of the Progressive era was the major influence on the adoption and wide spread application of Cloward’s theories. However, such an extensive review is not needed to uncover the influences most immediate to the work of Richard Cloward.

Cloward, R. (1959). Illegitimate means, anomie, and deviant behavior. American Sociological Review, 24(2), 164-176.

Cloward, R. & Ohlin, L. (1960). Delinquency and opportunity: A theory of delinquent gangs. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.

Gilbert, J. (1984). A cycle of outrage: American’s reaction to the juvenile delinquent in the 1950’s. New York: Oxford University Press.

Mills, C. (1959). The sociological imagination. New York: Oxford University Press.

Pfohl, S. (1994). Images of deviance and social control. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Short, J. (1975). The natural history of an applied theory: Differential Opportunity and

“Mobilization for Youth”. In N. Dermerath, O. Larsen, & K. Schuessler (Eds.), Social policy and sociology (pp. 193-210). New York : Academic Press, Inc.

Simpson, C. (1994). Science of coercion. New York: Oxford University Press.