Merton's Social Structure

Topics: Sociology, Criminology, White-collar crime Pages: 7 (2351 words) Published: November 7, 2010
Crime is identified as an action that is prohibited by law or a failure to act as required by law. But where do these laws or rules come from? According to Emile Durkheim in his article “The Normal and the Pathological,” the first thing that is created by human interaction is rules. Humans interact and create these rules to survive because rules are fundamentally important. It is when a specific behavior, or rule, becomes important enough that it is called a crime when it is violated (Durkheim 1895). There are many theories of crime which fall into different categories. These categories include biological theories, criminological theories, psychological theories, and sociological theories. Each theory attempts to explain the causes, whether biological, psychological, etc, behind the commitment of crime. Some crime theorists view crime as a necessary evil saying without it then society would remain stagnant. Robert K. Merton’s theory of criminality agreed with them in that it was necessary but he believed it was because of societal inequality that it was necessary in order to maintain stability. He believed that there are two elements to our social structure, which are cultural goals and institutionalized means. Ideally, the means would be equally available to everyone in society and allow them to reach the goals. However, our society is somewhat disorganized and structurally unequal. So Merton argues that there are five types of individual adaptation that individuals turn to in order to reach the goals if they are unable to do so by institutionalized means. The methods or adaptations individuals follow are conformity, innovation, ritualism, retreatism, and rebellion. The inequality of society’s structure creates a strain, as it is often referred to as, which causes a move toward anomie. It is the family, Merton believes, that can do the most in preventing this strain towards anomie.

Society has two elements to its structure; cultural goals and institutionalized means. Cultural goals are the “culturally defined goals, purposes and interests” (Merton 1938). Some but not all are directly related to man’s biological drives however they are not determined by them. These goals are what society deems that individuals should strive for. Institutionalized means are the rules or acceptable modes for reaching the cultural goals. These two elements do not always have equal value and emphasis. It is when the value and emphasis is put on the goals that the rules of how you get there become less important. When the goals become so important the rules are oftentimes ignored. To achieve a balanced society it is necessary for equal emphasis to be placed on the two elements. In American society the most important goal is money or materialism and success. Our most important institutions continually reinforce the importance of this goal. Family, school and religion all emphasize the goal of money and success. Engrained in each one of us is the “American Dream” of success, wealth, and a nice job and home that we believe is available to all of us through work. We are told by each of these institutions the legitimate means to achieving this goal. Studying hard and continuing on in college for a degree in order to obtain a good paying job are ways that are stressed in achieving success. Ideally, each and every individual would be able to receive adequate education and a job and eventually be elevated to the status of wealthy and successful. But that is not the case in our society. Not everyone has the same opportunity for good education and equal chance to work. Negative rein forcers for achieving the goal of wealth are the condemnation of those who do not reach it. Those who don’t make it are failures, losers and bums. Society teaches that we should not quit. Merton says that our cultural manifesto is clear, “one must not quit, must not cease striving, must not lessen his goals, for ‘not failure, but low...
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