Merton's Strain theory (functionalist crime theory)


I used these notes last year and they helped get 118/120 

look at my other sociology notes

I also did a videos using some of the notes:


RC = ruling class

WWC = white collar crime

CJS = criminal justice system

EMs = ethnic minorities

TNC's = transnational corporation

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  • Created by: Chantelle
  • Created on: 19-08-11 15:49
Preview of Merton's Strain theory (functionalist crime theory)

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Merton: Strain theory
Define, Decode, Signpost
Criminal behaviour is an act which breaks a formal law, such as murder, whereas deviant behaviour is
that which breaks a norm. Definitions of crime and deviance are socially constructed their definitions
are culturally determined. Consensus theories such as functionalism and new right claim definitions of
crime and deviance are freely agreed and that social control protects all members of society. Conflict
theories such as Marxism claim that definitions of Crime and Deviance are imposes on the proletariat
by the bourgeoisie to serve the interests of the elite. When debating (DECODE). It is also important
to consider the concept of social control which is attempts to society to make its members conform,
social control can be ideological such as manipulating members of society or coercive which involves
psychical violence. In this essay I will discuss (DECODE).
o Functionalist theory
o People engage in criminal behaviour when they're unable to achieve society's goals by
legitimate means
o He focused on the USA (1938). He explored the `American dream' which involved perusing
money success through legitimate means including, self discipline, gaining qualifications,
working hard etc.
o However disadvantaged groups will not have access to the legitimate groups.
o Where people lack the means a strain will develop which can result in frustration and arrange
deviant responses:
o Conformity ­ the goal is accepted and they have the means
o Innovation ­ where the person accepts the goal but doesn't have access to the
means, instead they develop new alternative means e.g. fraud/theft
o Ritualism ­ They give up on the goals but do have access to the means
o Retreatism ­ individuals reject the goals and the means so dropout an retreat into
drugs and alcoholism
o Rebellion ­ individuals reject the goals and means they wish to change the whole
structure through revolution
o Shows how crime can result from mainstream goals
o Demonstrates how there may be a range of responses
o Links restricted opportunities to the crime of disadvantaged groups
o Accepts OS as accurate
o Not useful in explaining WCC
o Ignores the power of the ruling class to enforce laws which criminalise the poor
o Assumes there's a consensus over goals
o Not useful in explaining crimes that are not for money.


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