The strain theory

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  • Created by: Sarah
  • Created on: 27-01-15 18:19

The strain theory:

  • Merton: Crime and deviance were evidence of a poor fit between the socially accepted goeals of society and the socially approved means of obtaining those desired goals
  • The strain led to devience
  • Aware that not everyone shared the same goals
  • In a stratified society goals are linked to a persons position in the social structure
  • the system worked well if the majority had a good chance of achieving their goals 
  • However, those who could not became disenchanted with society and sought alternative behaviour

There are 5 forms of behaviour:

  1. Conformity: Adhere's to both goals and means, despite the likelyhood of success
  2. innovation: Accepts the goals, but uses a different way to obtain them (E.G: Crime)
  3. Ritualism: The means are used by the individual, but the sight of the goal is lost
  4. Retreatism: Rejects both goals and means. (E.G: Alcoholics)
  5. Rebellion: Both goals and means are rejected and replaced with alternatives.


  • Valier:  A variety of goals that people strive to attain at any one time

Illegitimate opportunity structure:

  • Cloward and Ohlin: Merton had failed to apprichate that there was a parallel opportunity structure to the legal one called the 'Illegitimate opportunity structure'

There are three possible adaptations or subcultures:

  1. Criminal:  Thriving local criminal subculture, with role models
  2. Conflict:   There is no criminal subculture to provide careers so they turn to violence - (E.G: Gangs)
  3. Retreatist:   There is no opportunity or engagement so they turn to alcohol and drugs

Status frustration:

  • Cohen: Offending behaviour was not economically motivated, but simply done for the thrill of the act
  • Lower-class boys attempted to emulate middle-class boys, but…


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