Strain: Sociology and Social Structure Essay

Submitted By swayze90
Words: 2602
Pages: 11

Strain Theory There are four different varieties of strain theory. The first is anomie theory originally proposed by proposed by Dr. Robert Merton. The second theory is institutional anomie theory proposed by Steven F. Messner and Richard Rossenfeld. The third theory is general strain theory proposed by Robert Agnew. Finally relative deprivation theory originally proposed by James Davis, next to tackle this subject was Walter Garrison Runciman, followed by Ted Robert Gurr, and finally by Faye Crosby. Though each theory argues that strains create pressures and incentives to engage in criminal behavior to cope with the stress provided by the strain experienced, each theory differs though at least with respect to what constitutes as the most important source of strain. Robert Merton published his “Social Structure and Anomie” in 1938. In this article, Merton created a framework for explaining how crime rates differed from the Chicago school criminologists. For example, theorists such as Shaw and McKay stated that the ghetto slummy areas such as low income housing like the projects foster criminal behavior through the deviant behavior transmitted through the generations. Merton argued that it was the strict devotion to conventional American values has caused high rates of crime and deviance. Basically Merton believed that the conformity to American culture, and the American obsession with economic gain, produced high levels of serious crime. Merton stated that the United States places an unusual emphasis on economic success. All members of American society, from the wealthy upper class to the lower class, want the “American dream” if one were simply to work themselves to the bone, and one would inevitably reap the economic rewards. The problem is that despite the belief in the possibility of mobility through the social classes, the social structure of America limits an individuals’ access of economic success through legitimate means.
His work discussed how culture and social structure could lead to high crime rates. He noted that the American culture places economic success at the top of social desirability. Basically Americas financial Everest. Attaining economic success, however, is not matched by what the “means” are for reaching the desired “goal.” This problem is then aggravated by the social structural component discussed by Merton, which highlights the structural barriers that limit individuals’ access to the legitimate means for attaining the goal of economic success.
Merton referred to this weakening of cultural norms as “anomie.” His adoption of the term “anomie” is based the weakening of the normative order in society, or, how institutionalized social norms may lose their ability to regulate individuals’ behavior. In particular, Merton said that institutionalized norms will weaken, and anomie will set in, in societies that place an intense value on economic success. When this occurs, the pursuit of success is no longer guided by the standards of right and wrong. Merton stated that there were a number of ways in which people may adapt to the “strains” brought on by the inability to secure financial success. He proposed that there was a number of adaptations possible in response to social systems that have anomie and blocked opportunities. These adaptations are: innovation, in which the goals are pursued but illegitimate means tend to be used; ritualism, in which the goals are abandoned and legitimate means are pursued; retreatism, in which the goals are abandoned as well as the means; and rebellion, in which the social structure – both goals and means – are rejected and a new structure is used. A fifth adaptation is conformity, in which the goals are accepted and pursued, along with the legitimate means. In Messner and Rosenfeld’s Crime and the American Dream, Merton’s anomie/strain theory was extended and partially reformatted. Although they agreed with Merton’s view of American culture, they found