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What Is Culture Conflict? - Definition, Theory & Example

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Instructor: Jessica Schubert

Jessica is a practicing attorney and has taught law and has a J.D. and LL.M.

According to culture conflict theory, crime can result from the clash of what different social groups consider acceptable behavior. Explore the definition and two types of culture conflict, and examine the examples. Updated: 01/03/2022

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.

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  • 0:01 Definition of Culture Conflict
  • 0:42 Theory of Culture Conflict
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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. He believed that members of the middle class go to work every day in order to make a living through a legal manner. Meanwhile, he posited that others engage in illegal activities 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.

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