Literally misdeed, guilt, or neglect of duty, and hence in this sense not strictly defined by law. However, particularly when referred to as juvenile delinquency, the term is often used to embrace a broad range of behaviour, from that found offensive to respectable values (noisy teenage gatherings, truancy) to petty and occasionally more serious crime (such as shop-lifting, breaking and entering, and car theft).
Typically, the delinquent has been seen as an urban male, usually working class, aged between 12 and 20, associated with a variety of anti-social behaviours, membership of a gang , and having a history of trouble with the authorities and of recidivism . A high proportion of serious (indictable) offences are committed by people in this age-group, and so, on the one hand, the ‘problem’ of delinquency is one that always seems clearly demonstrable and inviting obvious explanations. Yet, on the other, the sociological literature and range of explanatory approaches is wide-drawing, for example, on the diverse theories of anomie, the Chicago School, the gang, delinquent drift, deviance amplification, differential association, differential opportunity, moral panics, and subcultures (all of which are treated under separate entries elsewhere in this dictionary). Psychology and psychiatry also offer various approaches: influences here include parental or maternal deprivation, and measures of intelligence and personality (for all of which again see separate entries). It is often held that the problem is new or getting worse, but late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century British and American society saw similar waves of delinquency. (A good account of these is given in, Hooligan: A History of Respectable Fears, 1983.) In the past, studies of delinquent youth largely neglected questions of race and gender, an omission which is only slowly being addressed.

Dictionary of sociology. 2013.

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