Robert K. Merton
Merton developed strain theory, which falls within the general category of functionlism. According to Merton, deviance within society is as a result of the culture and structure of society itself. His theory is based on the idea that all members of society share common values and goals. Some of those values might be to own one’s own house, own a car, enjoy foreign holidays etc. However, because not all members in society occupy the same economic or social position, they do not all have an equal opportunity to realise those goals. Merton used the USA as an example to illustrate his theory. American society developed the idea of the ‘American Dream’. The philosophy behind the ‘American Dream’ is that anyone, regardless of one’s social background, can achieve financial success. The normal way to achieve material success is through hard work, education, determination and ambition. Unfortunately, the reality is that not everyone is able to succeed. There are winners and losers. Merton’s argument is that the pressure from society to achieve financial success actively pushes individuals (the losers) to commit crimes and therefore is the cause of deviant behaviour. As Merton says, ‘the social and cultural structure generates pressure for socially deviant behaviour upon people variously located in that structure’. In other words, American society generates a desire for material possessions, especially as success is measured by the attainment of such possessions. In this materialistic society, those who cannot succeed by legitimate means will resort to devious means to do so. Merton also considered the different ways in which individuals would respond in the face of failure to achieve success. How they would react also depended upon their social position in society. He outlined five ways in which people would respond to such a situation. 1. Conformity
This would be the response of the majority. Most law-abiding citizens would try to achieve success by conventional, non-criminal means. 2. Innovation
Here there is a rejection of the normal means of achieving success. Individuals would resort to crime to gain wealth. Merton believed that those in the lower social bracket would be most likely to choose this route as a way to be financially successful. Such an option is likely because their educational qualifications and their jobs provide little opportunity for advancement. The result is that there is greater pressure on them to deviate and turn to crime. 3. Ritualism
This response is likely to be that of the lower middle class. Their jobs provide fewer opportunities than other members of the middle class. Robert Merton: Anomie Theory (sometimes also termed strain theory or means-ends theory) In one of the most famous articles in sociology, its first version written in the 1940s, Robert Merton begins by addressing biological explanations of deviance and concludes that biology cannot account for variations from one society to the next in the nature and extent of deviance. His primary interest is not so much why a particular individual deviates, but why the rates of deviance differ so dramatically in different societies and for different subgroups within a single society. Merton works within the overall functionalist perspective that we have already addressed, which puts a great deal of emphasis on the role of culture, particularly its unifying aspects, but now Merton adapts a concept he borrows from Durkheim to analyze situations in which culture creates deviance and disunity. In Durkheim's usage, anomie referred to a situation in which cultural norms break down because of rapid change. Anomic suicide, for example, can occur during a major economic depression, when people aren't able to achieve the goals that they have learned to pursue, but it can also occur when the economy experiences a boom and suddenly the sky's the limit--people don't know how to limit their goals and be...
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