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Techniques of Neutralization: a Theory of Delinquency

by Gresham M Sykes, David Matza
American Sociological Review ()
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The traditional image of the juvenile delinquent (JD) as being socialized in a sub-culture with values & norms in competition with broader society is challenged & a modified explanation of delinquent behavior is offered. Traditional view is questioned since: (1) many JD's experience guilt & shame, indicating that they do not view their behavior as morally correct within some sub-culture; (2) JD's frequently admire & respect law-abiding persons; (3) it is common for JD's to limit victims by considerations of class, ethnic group, religion, etc, indicating that virtue of delinquency is not unquestioned; & (4) almost all JD's can be supposed to have been subjected to & to have internalized the norms of the broader society. It is argued that much delinquency results from justifications for deviance that are seen as valid by the JD & that serve to neutralize demands of society. Such techniques include: (1) denial of responsibility of the JD with the claim that forces beyond his control cause his behavior; (2) denial of injury through feeling that no serious harm has been done; (3) denial of the victim by transforming victim into person deserving of injury; (4) condemnation of the condemners which by focusing on motives of those who disapprove of his behavior makes it easier to ignore own deviancy; & (5) contention that higher loyalties such as sibling pair or gang are stronger than demands of larger society. While foregoing techniques of neutralization may not be necessary for all JD's, they are critical in lessening effectiveness of soc controls. W. F. Kenkel.

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