Coe Review Staff Blogs Fall 2019

Children Underground: A Reflection Through the Lens of Sociology By: Ellora Bultema

Children Underground was a documentary focusing on the counterculture of homeless children in Romania, collecting data through a self-report study method. The film followed the lives of a few children living in a subway in Romania and throughout the movie the audience is shown examples of violent and nonviolent crimes as well as sanctions practiced within the counterculture. The society is made up of boys and girls varying in age and economic background and resembled theories like the differential association theory. 

One of the children, a girl named Macarena, had grown up in and out of orphanages and institutions before living on the streets and as a result of living in the subway with the homeless group she became addicted to drugs, specifically huffing paint. She might not have considered any of the other homeless youths as close to her, but she grew up and hung around them the majority of her early development and therefore adopted mannerisms like theirs. 

The cultural deviance theory was also recognized in the film when the audience was introduced to Cristina, who acted like the leader of the community. As new children entered the band of deviants Cristina would explain to them the rules and tell them what to do. She had a stick and a reputation of being aggressive so not conforming to the norms had the consequences of getting beaten up or physically injured. Even being kicked out was a fear some children had because although the system was unfair at times it still was able to provide a shelter and usually food sources as well as other benefits, like drugs. Cristina acted as a leader but still did her part to support the community she belonged to. She and other children would gather food and water, drugs, money, and even establish agreements with small business owners who were placed in the underground subway. 

The homeless society was one that had aspects similar to the functionalist theory, they depended on each other to function properly and had a set of rules and norms that were expected to be followed. Within the society there were elite powers like Cristina and unestablished social ranks, the lowest usually being newcomers, and power was based on influence rather than wealth. Negative sanctions were enforced regularly throughout the documentary, whether they were formal or informal sanctions, and usually delivered by Cristina or even just general public. Macarena was even subjected to street crime at one point when a man began to beat her in public and others just watched, eventually Cristina stepped in to help her fellow member of society. 

Macarena was a good example of secondary deviance; she attended a school but was constantly suspended for using drugs. When confronting the teacher about it the teacher explained that Macarena was hardworking punctual when she wasn’t under the influence of drugs, but her motivation and sense of self was distorted as she felt disconnected to society. She didn’t feel human and even asked the teacher if she had parents and had a mother, not being able to recognize that although she was raised differently, she was still connected to a larger society. Like secondary deviance, Macarena felt changed due to the way she was perceived by others, which only encouraged her to make poor choices like using drugs.

Despite the film being set in Romania, Children Underground can be taken as a case study of how various sociological theories function in a society. Countercultures such as children experiencing homelessness prove that a group can create their own informal structural form and set of rules to adhere by whether or not they’re recognized as legitimate by mainstream society.

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