Overall Merton

Merton is a strain theorist who has developed on Durkheims ideas around anomie whilst focusing specifically on American culture.Merton argues that deviance behaviour is not solely caused by anomie,but caused by peoples inability to achieve mainstream cultural goals imposed on them by society through instituitonal means.The pressure of gaining mainstream goals results in many turning to crime to gain success goals as there is not a strong emphasis on not generating money from illegitimate means.

Merton suggests that their are two main factors that lead to crime and deviance:

Structural factors-Unequal oppurtunity

Cultural factors-Unequal emphasis on success goals and insitutional means.The unequal emphasis can be defined as 'the strain to anomie'.



1 of 4

Merton and The American Dream

Based on the idea that anyone can become successful in the from of of material wealth through legitimate means. Linked to idea of a meritocratic society.

Yet in Reality- no equal opportunities and many are denied opportunities to legitimately to achieve SG esp lower WC.

2 of 4

Deviant adaptions to Strain

An individual’s  position in social structure determines how they adapt/respond to the strain


5 types of adaption (individual responses not group)

Conformity  the majority confrom  middle class

Innovation who gain success golas through illegitimate means but believe in sucess goals. lower working class

Ritualism dont commit crime  due to their immense socialisation during childhood.but acknowlege they willl not achieve success goals.

Retreatism have tried to gain success goals but have failed so have retreated to drug abuse etc...;

Rebellion thoses who have never wanted to achieve success goials and define sucess in other ways besides mnoney and materialism

3 of 4

Evaluation of Merton's Theory


1. Shows how cultural goals result in both normal and deviant behaviour (responses Conformity/Innovation)

2. His Strain theory explains patterns in OS. Why most crime is property crime. Why lower WC have highest rates.


1.Deterministic: 2.Takes OS at face value. Evidence OS are invalid. 3.Marxists- ignores power. E.g. why cant everyone achieve SG? Who defines success as materialism? Society or capitalist ideology (hegemony)? 4.Assumes everyone defines success as materialism. 5.Cohen : Fails to explain non-utilitarian crimes 6.Cohen: Explains how C/D results from individuals adapting to the strain of anomie but ignores the role of group deviance. More applicable to adults than youths. 7.Cloward and Ohlin: Ignores the influence of illegitimate opportunity structures

4 of 4


No comments have yet been made

Similar Sociology resources:

See all Sociology resources »See all Families and households resources »