Delinquent displays and social status among adolescents.

AuthorGallupe, Owen

Social network analysis (SNA) has been increasingly used in criminology as a framework to understand crime and delinquency. The most fundamental assumption of SNA is that patterns in social relations influence behaviour (Knoke and Yang 2008) and are indicative of an individual's power in their network (Borgatti, Mehra, Brass, and Labianca 2009; Brass 1984; Yamagishi, Gillmore, and Cook 1988). Among network researchers, structural relations are often seen as more powerful predictors of behaviour than individual characteristics such as age, gender, race, or attitudes. This makes SNA an intriguing framework for understanding criminal behaviour. Peer influence researchers also put social relations at the forefront in understanding delinquency but have not traditionally made use of network methods to examine the mechanisms underlying the influence of peers on delinquent behaviour. Samecki (1990) produced some of the earliest socio-metric research on delinquency and found that there was a great deal of connectivity among delinquents in a Swedish city and that this network played an important role in the reproduction of delinquency over time. While recent years have witnessed a surge in network-related studies in criminology and sociology (e.g., Haynie 2001, 2002; Kreager, Rulison, and Moody 2011; McGloin and Piquero 2010), there are still many ways in which SNA can be exploited to understand the dynamics surrounding delinquency.

The present study pursues that end by examining an issue that has received little attention in criminology--namely, how presenting a capacity for delinquency or risk-taking contributes to adolescent social status. In a sense, we take a step backwards: While studies have examined the effect of social status on delinquency, the reverse dynamic has been mostly ignored. In effect, we are interested in the possibility that delinquent and related behaviours might arise out of an effort to gain social status. Several scholars have noted that we know more about the behavioural effects of networks than we do about the causes of network structure (Borgatti and Foster 2003; Klein, Lim, Saltz, and Mayer 2004). While there are many factors that contribute to social status, ranging from personal charisma to fashion to participation in certain activities to ascribed characteristics, we focus exclusively on the role that displaying a capacity for risk taking plays in determining adolescents' structural location in their network. Despite some evidence suggesting that delinquency might enhance an adolescent's social status, this idea has not been sufficiently pursued in previous research.

The importance of social status is elevated in adolescence, when the emphasis placed on peer relations is greatest (Warr 2002). As Warr (2002: 52-53) notes, "for many adolescents, the only potential source of status in their lives lies in the world of their age peers, and the need for acceptance and validation in those relationships ... can be very strong." He also notes that delinquency can confer status, as it displays desirable characteristics such as "daring, spontaneity, toughness, [and] leadership" (57). Subcultural research has shown that groups outside of mainstream society can provide a setting in which a person who is unsuccessful or blocked from achieving social status within conventional groups can do so within deviant groups (e.g., Bourgois 1995; Cohen 1955; Miller 1958), though this research tends to be on a small scale and is generally limited to a focus on particular outsider groups. The generalizability of this type of research is, therefore, minimal. This is particularly problematic, since delinquency is much more widespread than these specific subcultures. In fact, Haynie (2002) showed that most adolescent friendship networks are comprised of both delinquents and non-delinquents. To be able to examine the idea that adolescents who do not have particularly high social status might attempt to display a capacity for delinquency as a way to improve their social status in a way that is generalizable to a greater adolescent population, a large, longitudinal dataset with sociometric data collected at the second wave (or later) is required. The difficulties in meeting such requirements have made addressing the concerns of this study particularly challenging and thus no known studies have addressed this research question. In the absence of strong theoretical guidance on the precise mechanisms through which displays of risk-taking might improve social status, we construct our predictive framework based around the idea that a capacity for delinquency can be displayed by actually engaging in delinquency or through alternative means that do not involve illicit acts.

Social status broadly refers to the position occupied by an individual in a social hierarchy. The simplest indicator of adolescent social status in schools is popularity (i.e., receiving many friendship nominations from others). According to Wasserman and Faust (1994: 202), "actors who are prestigious tend to receive many nominations." Compared to lower status individuals, adolescents who have many friends are generally the most prominent in the network and others often seek direct ties to them (i.e., individuals are more likely to seek friendships with popular peers than with others) (Hanneman and Riddle 2005: 147). Further, those who are popular receive greater attention from other members of the peer group (Vaughn and Waters 1981), tend to be received more positively by individuals whom they approach (Dodge 1983), and have the ability "to set styles and determine what activities will be undertaken and who will be included" (Brown 2004: 372). In effect, they occupy a position of prestige in their networks, tend to be well liked by others, and are more likely to influence others.

Key to this study is whether presenting a capacity for delinquency is associated with higher levels of social status among adolescents. These interests differ from the approach generally taken by researchers where the consequences of such a status become the object of investigation (e.g., Haynie 2001; Sabongui, Bukowski, and Newcomb 1998). However, the research literature has shown that adolescents can display a capacity for delinquency by engaging in both illicit and law-abiding behaviour. The most obvious way is to actually engage in delinquent behaviour (e.g., violence, property crime). Related to this, capacity for delinquency can also be displayed by using drugs and alcohol, behaviour whose illicit status varies by age and substance but is distinct from other forms of delinquent behaviour in that it tends to be more widely accepted (Mears, Ploeger, and Warr 1998). Capacity for delinquency may also be displayed in ways that do not involve any actual illicit behaviour. One way is to engage in non-offending behaviour that nonetheless hints at a person's capacity to offend (e.g., by acting in ways that suggest impulsivity). Another possible way to display delinquent potential is to associate with people who are themselves involved in illicit behaviour. Two general models are specifically examined in this study that capture these dynamics: (1) the illicit behaviour model and (2) the delinquent potential model. The illicit behaviour model includes various indicators of involvement in (a) crime and (b) substance use, while the delinquent potential model is measured through indicators of (a) impulsivity and (b) peer delinquency without actual personal involvement in delinquency.

While we treat the predictor models separately, there is substantial conceptual overlap between them. In line with the focus of the study, the models measure the extent to which adolescents convey a delinquent potential, the implication being that adolescents who occupy the lower rungs of the status hierarchy might attempt to achieve a higher overall status in the network by displaying their capacity for delinquency in one (or more) of these ways. The difference between the models is how this capacity for delinquency may (or may not) be displayed. Basically, we are asking whether the higher social status attributable to displaying a delinquent potential must actually involve rule-breaking activity or whether this can be achieved in alternative ways that do not require any illicit behaviour. Our most fundamental hypothesis is this--H1: Adolescents who display a capacity for delinquency are likely to have a higher social status.

Matza's (1964: 54) concept of "mutual misunderstanding" is relevant here. This is the widespread belief that peers are more accepting of deviance than they actually are. Acting on this belief, adolescents are likely to reward the deviance that they feel others around them value, so appearing to be delinquent is likely to result in greater social status. This has potentially important consequences. If most people feel that others value something, they are likely to outwardly show support for it, even if inwardly, they do not accept it.

The illicit behaviour model

The idea that delinquency is something that can convey social status has a long history. Subcultural studies have shown that, for individuals blocked from achieving social status within mainstream society, offending groups can provide opportunities for alternative forms of status attainment (e.g., Cohen 1955; Miller 1958). More recently, Rebellon and Manasse (2004) noted that

(d)anger and risk are one of the surest means of attracting and entertaining crowds ... (T)he delinquent will generally be viewed as more fun than the conformist ... (P)eers may grant risk-takers a measure of status, to the extent that they value risk-taking, a small-scale version of the esteem society grants explorers, astronauts, soldiers, firefighters, and others. (359; internal references deleted) Moffitt's (1993) "maturity gap" idea proposes a possible mechanism through which delinquent behaviour can benefit adolescent social status...

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