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Examine the role of access to opportunity structures in causing crime and
deviance (12 marks)
Crime is where an individual commits and act that violates the law. Deviance can also be
a crime this is where an individual's behavior goes against what is socially accepted by
society. Different sociologists hold different views on the causes for crime and
deviance in society functionalists in particular refer to access of opportunity structures
Merton suggests that crime and deviance can be explained via the `strain to anomie'
theory. This is where the inability to achieve socially approved goals results in
frustration and the individual resorting to criminal means in order to get what they want.
The theory has two fundamental elements under pinning it, these are structural and
cultural. Deviance is the result of strain between these factors, the goals the culture
encourages individuals to achieve are legitimately limited due to the unequal opportunity
structure. Merton argues that an individuals position in the social structure affects their
response to the strain, he identified different types of adaptation, an example of a form
of deviance is the `innovator' where an individual accepts the goal of money and success,
but however uses `new' illegitimate means such as theft and fraud to achieve it.
Disadvantaged groups that are denied these opportunities to achieve legitimately are
within the ethnic minorities and the lower classes. This theory therefore claims that
when opportunity is inaccessible, crime and deviance is the result.
Merton's theory is supported by patterns within crime statistics. Statistics show that
most crime is poverty crime, suggesting the high value of material wealth. In addition
lower class crime rates are highest, demonstrating that this group has the least
opportunity to achieve wealth legitimately.
In addition Marxists would criticize this theory as it ignores the power of the ruling
class to make and enforce laws in ways that criminalise the poor and not the rich, rather
than the access of opportunity structure.
Cohen is a subcultural theorist who agrees with Merton's view of deviance stemming
from lowerclasses inability to achieve success by legitimate means, although his theory
can also be used to criticize Merton. This theory gives explanations as to crimes
committed by groups in which Merton ignores. In addition Merton focuses on utilitarian
crime for material gain such as fraud and theft, and does not take into account crimes of
no economic motive such as assault or vandalism. In reference to his research on
working class boys Cohen found that in the school system the boys lacked skills
(legitimate means) to achieve due to cultural deprivation. This inability to succeed put
them at the bottom of the official status hierarchy causing `status frustration'. Cohen
argued frustration was resolved by rejecting middle class mainstream values and forming
or joining a delinquent subculture with others in similar situations. It is within this new
subculture boys have an alternative status hierarchy. Due to failure in the legitimate
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Cohen however, assumes that working class boys start off sharing middle class success
goals, only to reject those when they fail. The possibility that these goals weren't shared
in the first place and so the boy never saw themselves as failures was ignored.
In conclusion Cloward and Ohlin's theory offers an explanation as to why not everyone
turns to utilitarian crimes.…read more