Merton's Strain Theory

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  • Merton's Strain Theory
    • Strain theory - People engage in deviant behavior when they are unable to achieve socially approved goals by legitimate means.
    • Two Elements:
      • Structural factors - society's unequal opportunity structure.
      • Cultural factors - strong emphasis on success goals and weaker emphasis on using legitimate means to achieve them.
    • Deviance is the result of strain between two things:
      • The goals that a culture encourages individuals to achieve.
      • What society allows them to achieve legitimately.
    • The American Dream
      • Americans are expected to achieve the American Dream through self - discipline, study, education and hard work in a career.
      • Tells Americans that their society is a meritocratic one where anyone who makes the effort can get ahead.
      • The reality is different as many disadvantaged groups are denied opportunities to achieve legitimately. For example, poverty.
      • Frustration leads to crime and deviance to achieve the American Dream. Merton calls this the strain to anomie.
    • Deviant adaptations to strain
      • Conformity - Accept the culturally approved goals and achieve them legitimately. This is mostly middle class.
      • Innovation - Accept goals but choose illegitimate ways to gain them. This is lower class.
      • Ritualism - Give up trying to gain goals but gain what they do legitimately. For example office workers.
      • Retreatism - reject goals and legitimate means, become dropouts. For example tramps.
      • Rebellion - reject existing goals but offer new ones
    • Evaluation
      • Too deterministic as the working class don't all deviate.
      • Assumes there's a shared value consensus for wealth.
      • Doesn't account for violent crimes.


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