Merton's Strain Theory

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  • Mertons strain theory
    • For Merton, deviance is the result of a strain between the goals that a culture encourages individuals to achieve and what the institutional structure of society allows them to achieve legitimatey
      • The resulting strain between the cultural goal of money and the lack of legitimate opportunities to achieve progresses to frustration, and this in turn creates a pressure to resort to illegitimate means such as crime and deviance
    • According to Merton social order is based on a consensus around social goals and approved means of achieving them
    • Merton identifies 5 modes of adaptation to apply to his strain theory
      • These are: Conformity, innovation, retreatists, ritualists and rebellion
    • Criticisms
      • (negative evaluation) Merton assumes that financial success is the primary cultural goal for society, ignoring other goals people seek to achieve
      • (negative evaluation) He focuses on individual responses, and doesn't recognise that there is a social pattern of crime and deviance affecting whole groups of people, linked to social class, age, gender, ethnicity and localty
      • (positive evalution) Most crime is property crime, because American society values material wealth so highly
      • He doesn't explain why most people who face strain to not turn to crime or other deviance
      • He does not recognise that their may be outwardly respectable, apparently conforming successful people who are 'innovators' engaged in illegal activities as in 'white collar' and corporate crimes
      • The theory takes crime statistics at face value so Merton sees crime as a mainly working class phenomenon
      • Marxists argue that it ignores the power of the ruling class to make and enforce the laws in ways that criminalise
    • Merton uses the american dream to illustrate his point


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