delinquent drift

delinquent drift

the idea that young offenders, who might otherwise respect law-abiding values and people, may ‘drift’ into DELINQUENCY. The term is particularly associated with the US sociologists, David Matza and Gresham Sykes (Matza, 1964; Sykes and Matza, 1957). In arguing against the positivism and determinism of other theories of delinquency which were influential at the time, Matza suggested that the delinquent was a more active participant in the process of becoming deviant than those theories suggested. The drift into deviance is associated with a weakening of social controls, which the delinquent chooses to enhance by rationalizing or ‘neutralizing’ normative restraints. The important thing, for Sykes and Matza, is that these techniques of neutralization allow delinquents to value ‘respectable’ conduct and retain self-respect, while being deviant themselves. An emphasis on the deviants’ own explanation of their actions is basic to the non-positivist stance of such theorists. Matza also elaborates on delinquents’ feelings of injustice, which serve to weaken attachment to norms and excuse delinquency (1964). Sykes and Matza describe five techniques of neutralization:
  1. a denial of responsibility; instead accident, absent-mindedness, etc, are responsible;
  2. the act did not victimize anyone; no one was hurt, so there was ‘no harm done’;
  3. someone was victimized, but deserved what they got;
  4. condemning those who condemn you; police, judges and magistrates, newspaper editors, they all have some racket going;
  5. an appeal to higher loyalties; the delinquent act was done to help a relative or friend.

These techniques are important because ‘neutralization enables drift’. Such rationalizations are commonplace in DELINQUENT SUBCULTURE.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000