Sociology Strain Theories of Crime & Deviance

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  • Strain theories of Crime and Deviance
    • Merton's (1938) Strain Theory
      • Merton adapted Durkheim's concept of anomie to explain deviance as a combination of unequal level of opportunity for all and a set of cultural goals with less emphasis on achieving them legitimately
        • e:g American culture values 'money success' which is individual material wealth and the status that goes with it
    • The American dream
      • The ideology of the 'American dream' promotes meritocracy in society
        • The reality is different as many disadvantaged groups are denied opportunities to achieve these ideals legitimately due to poverty etc
          • The strain resulting between cultural goals and lack of legitimate opportunities to achieve them produces frustration which creates pressure to commit crimes
            • Therefore Merton argues the society creates 'strain to anomie'
      • Americans are expected to pursue this goal by legitimate means
    • Deviant adaptions to strain
      • Merton identifies five types of adaption, depending on whether an individual accepts, rejects or replaces approved cultural goals and the legitimate means of achieving them
        • Conformity (accepts cultural goals and institutional means)
        • Innovation (accepts cultural goals but rejects institutional means)
        • Ritualism (rejects cultural goals but accepts institutional means)
        • Retreatism (rejects cultural goals but rejects institutional means)
        • Rebellion (rejects cultural goals and attempts to replace them and rejects institutional goals and tries to replace them)
    • Evaluation
      • Weaknesses
        • Merton takes official crime statistics at face value. These overrepresent working class crime so Merton sees crime as a mainly working class phenomenon
        • Too deterministic as the working class experience the most strain yet not all of the working class deviate
      • Strengths
        • Merton shows how both normal and deviant behaviour can arise from the same mainstream goal
          • Both conformists and innovators are pursuing money success, except the former are doing it legitimately and the later illegitimately
        • Merton also explains the differences in crime rates by different types of crime and social groups
          • For example, most crime recorded is property crime because American society values material wealth so highly


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