Access to Opportunity Structures in Causing Crime and Deviance

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There are many different factors that have to be considered when examining the role of access to opportunity structures in causing crime and deviance. Merton’s ‘Strain theory and anomie’ argues that deviance arises from the structure of society and that unequal access to legitimate opportunity structures is the cause of deviant behaviour. The main point that Merton’s theory outlines is the fact that people engage in deviant behaviour because they are unable to achieve socially approved goals by legitimate means, and when most people share similar goals for example financial success in an unequal society not all individuals have the opportunity to realise those goals by approved means, therefore they feel different, as the dominant rules how to achieve success don’t meet their needs, and as a result deviance occurs.

Merton argues that there are different ‘modes of adaptation’, or responses to situations, that range from conformity that most people to display, to one of four forms of deviance, which he calls Innovation, Ritualism, Retreatism and Rebellion. A non-deviant, non-criminal conformist citizen would take the conformity mode of adaptation where they accept the means and goals of society. However those who fail to do so often turn to crime as an alternative.

However, Merton’s strain theory can be criticised because it focuses on individual responses to limited access to opportunity structures or access to illegitimate opportunity structures and doesn’t recognise that there is a social pattern of crime and deviance affecting whole groups of people, linked to social class, age, gender, ethnicity and locality, and not all of these people are subjected to the same opportunity structures.

Cohen’s theory also supports the idea that denied access to legitimate opportunity structures can lead towards deviant and criminal behaviour and the status frustration theory places a larger emphasis on the behaviours being a group response for working-class...
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