Review the social structure theory known as culture conflict theory in this lesson. Learn the definition of the theory and go over the two major types of culture conflict. Then, examine several examples to gain a thorough understanding.

Definition of Culture Conflict

Americans celebrate the Fourth of July. The French celebrate Bastille Day. Argentinians celebrate El Carnaval del Pais. All over the world, different countries and different cultures engage in different holidays, customs, cultural practices, religions, and more. These differences make up our diverse world, but also create culture conflict.

Culture conflict theory is also known as cultural deviance theory. This theory suggests that crime is caused due to the clash of values that arises when different social groups have different ideas of acceptable behavior. In other words, different social groups have different cultural beliefs and ideas that conflict, and this conflict sometimes leads to crime.

Theory of Culture Conflict

In 1938, criminologist Thorsten Sellin wrote a book entitled Culture Conflict and Crime that clarified the culture conflict theory. According to Sellin, the root cause of crime is based upon various values and beliefs for what is acceptable behavior. The clash of these values and beliefs result in crime. Furthermore, since crime constitutes a violation of the law, the criminal act is simply a clash over what is the acceptable behavior.

In addition, Sellin referred to two types of culture conflict: primary conflict and secondary conflict. Initially, primary conflict occurs when the clash involves fundamental cultural beliefs. Secondary conflict involves less fundamental beliefs.

Moreover, Sellin indicated that secondary conflict exists between the middle class and lower class. The middle class goes to work every day in order to make a living through a legal manner. Meanwhile, others engage in illegal activities, such as prostitution, in order to make a living. These illegal activities have been established by laws created by middle and upper classes. According to Sellin, crime continues as these two classes clash.

Examples of Culture Conflict

Let’s take an example of culture conflict. Imagine that Misha is the daughter of Bajka. The family immigrates to the United States. They are from a country where all women must remain virgins until they are married. Misha meets a man here in the United States, and they engage in premarital sex. Bajka learns of this encounter, and he kills his daughter in accordance with his native country’s tradition. The tradition is one which follows that the killing must be done as an honor killing to respect the family. This is an example of primary conflict. As Bajka’s fundamental cultural beliefs conflict with the laws and cultural beliefs in the United States, the conflict led to crime.

Let’s look at another example. Imagine that James is a 6-year-old child from a family from another country that uses certain language that includes words that the United States considers to be ‘foul’ language. James uses the words in kindergarten and his teacher is appalled. James gets in trouble at school but does not understand why; his family uses the words at home, so James does not think he did anything wrong, nor does his family. This is not an example of crime, but it is an example of culture conflict theory.

Lesson Summary

Culture conflict occurs when crime arises due to a clash in values over what is considered acceptable behavior. There are two different types of cultural conflict: primary conflict and secondary conflict. Primary involves fundamental cultural beliefs, while secondary includes a conflict among the middle and lower classes.

Theory Overview

  • Thorsten Sellin: Criminologist who wrote Culture Conflict and Crime, about culture conflict theory
  • Two types of culture conflict: 1) Primary: Conflict involving fundamental cultural beliefs 2) Secondary: Conflict involving less fundamental beliefs that are mostly between the middle and lower classes.
  • Clash of values can result in crime

Lesson Outcome

After viewing this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Define culture conflict
  • Summarize a theory on culture conflict
  • Provide examples of culture conflicts