Merton's strain theory

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  • Merton's strain theory
    • Introduction
      • Strain theories argue that people engage in deviant activity as they are unable to achieve socially approved goals by legitimate means.
      • Adapted from Durkheim theory of 'anomie,' (normlessness) to explain deviance.
    • Factors
      • Structural: Society's unequal opportunity structure.
      • Cultural factors: The strong emphasis on success and the weaker emphasis on using legitimate means to achieve them.
    • Deviance is the result of the strain between the goal that individuals are encouraged to achieve and what the institutional structure of society allows for them to achieve.
      • For example: American culture values money success (individual/material wealth and the high status accompanying it.)
    • The American Dream
      • Americans are expected to achieve goals through legitimate means.
        • For example: Hard work/ education.
      • It's ideology is that American society is meritocratic (although the reality is different)/
        • Many disadvantaged groups are denied the opportunities to achieve legitimately.
          • For example: ethnic minorities/lower classes may face poverty/ inadequate schooling/discrimination in the job market.
    • Strain produces frustration.
      • This then puts pressure on people to resort to illegitimate means in order to achieve. (Crime and deviance)
        • "the strain to anomie": The pressure to deviate.
    • Deviate adaptations to strain
      • 1. Conformity: Individuals that the culturally approved goals and try to achieve them legitimately.
    • Evaluation
      • Shows how different reactions can arise from mainstream goals.
      • He explains the patterns shown in official crime statistics:
        • Most crime is Utilitarian (for some form of financial or material gain).
        • Lower class crime rates are higher because they have least opportunity to obtain wealth legitimately.
        • However...
          • Takes official statistics as truth even though they often represent working class crime.
          • His theory is largely derministic (just because working class are more likely to deviate doesn't mean that all of them do.
          • Assumes that there is a value consensus and that not everyone may share this.
          • Untitled


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