Crime and Deviance - Assess Merton's Strain Theory of Deviance (21 marks)

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Gareth Collins

Crime and Deviance; Topical questions.

Read item A and answer the question that follows;

Item A According to Merton, deviance results from a ‘strain’ between the culturally approved goals that society sets its members and the legitimate means of achieving them. Merton predicts that deviance will occur if society fails to provide its members with legitimate ways of achieving the goals that it sets for them. Deviance may also result if society lays more emphasis on achieving these goals by any means necessary rather than ‘playing by the rules.’ 

Question Using material from Item A and elsewhere, asses Merton’s Strain Theory of Deviance. 

Merton’s Strain theory is based of the idea that society has an expectation for it’s members to achieve in a meritocratic society. Ideals such as the American Dream is an example of this. Merton said that Strain occurs, when the person tries to achieve what Society expects them to achieve, but can only achieve so much, falling short of the goal. Merton then said, that there were five adaptations to this strain in order to deal with it. 

1. Conformity - Where people continue to work with the system with the hopes that one day their work will pay off.

2. Innovation - Where people turn to an illegitimate means of achieving- thus turning to crime to achieve their goal of material success.

3. Ritualism - Where people forget about their goal within the system, but choose to continue to work within the system because it’s what they’ve always done, and it makes sense to continue to do so.

4. Retreatism - Where people forget about their goal within the system, but then choose to reject the system, retreating, or dropping out of mainstream society. 

5. Rebellion - Where people reject both the goals and system mainstream society maintains, and attempt to change it, usually through trying to replace the values and norms of society. 

These adaptations each represent a way for an individual to succeed in their own way due to a lack of access to legitimate opportunity in their social structure. Merton’s theory however, is sometimes criticised heavily on the grounds that it relies on the official crime statistics too much, which is always a big question in Sociology; Do the statistics we’re provided with give an accurate, or real representation of what’s going on? Perhaps not. Also, Marxists in particular would criticise Merton’s Strain Theory because it tends to ignore the wider power structure of society and who actually makes the laws deeming deviant acts criminal, and quite importantly, only really makes an attempt at explaining crimes of the working class and below - not of the classes above. 

However, some of these shortcomings have been improved upon - attempts to explain different types of crime for example are seen in the work of


ali wasi






I was just wondering if this is the normal length for a 21 marker? 

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