Why People Commit Crime: A Strain Theory Perspective

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Why People Commit Crime: A Strain Theory Perspective

SOCI150 Criminology

Deviance, criminal behavior and wrong doings; why do they occur? People don't just wake up one morning and say "I'm off from work today so why don't I just go rob a bank". There has to be something in their past or present experiences that cause one to engage in criminal behavior. So what makes people commit crime and most importantly why do they fell they need to so? Criminologists have studied this question for many years and came up with so many different types of answers and theories. All these theories prevail their own unique reason for crime. Due to my interest in this question I also have been reading some theories and looking for a reason. However I stopped at one theory that I automatically had my attention. As I read more about if all the pieces of the complex puzzle of crime began to fall in place. This theory is called the strain theory. This paper will takes you through the day that it was written by Robert Merton in 1938 and the day it was transformed by Robert Agnew into the General Strain Theory in 1992.

A French Sociologist by the name of Emile Durkheim popularized the concept of anomie in his book Suicide: Astudy in Sociology; 1897 where he studied thousands of cases of suicides and concluded that people commit the self-inflicted act due to influences pressured onto them by society. He defined anomie to mean "normlessness". Years later, in 1938 Robert Merton applied Durkheim's definition of anomie to modern industrial societies.

Robert Merton was born on July 4, 1910, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was named Meyer Schkolnick, but later changed to Robert King Merton because he didn't was every one to know that he was Jewish. The initial idea for his new identity was actually a revision to his stage name, Robert Merlin that he used when he performed magic shows during his teenage years. He spoke English, French, German, Italian, and Latin. He received a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1936. Soon after, he became a faculty member at Harvard. From 1939 to 1941, he served on the faculty of Tulane University in New Orleans. In 1941, he was appointed to work at Columbia University and became a full professor there in 1947. He published countless works that have aided any sociologists both then and now. His publications broadened the realms of sociology and helped develop new genres of study within the field such as crime and deviance related research. His most famous writings were Social Theory And Social Structure and On The Shoulders of Giants published in 1965. Merton died on February 23, 2003.

Merton stated that anomie is the form that societal disorder that takes when there is a significant detachment "between valued cultural ends and legitimate societal means to those ends"(McCluskey 2002 p11). Basically Merton said that all people have legitimate goals such as "wealth, status and personal happiness", (Schmalleger, 2002 p208), they are some of the main desires that people posses and strive to get. Some people can never reach these goals and to others they are handed down to them during childhood. Some two types of groups are lower class and upper class individuals. For a person to have wealth, status and personal happiness, they need certain types of tools, such as education, a good job, and financial saving. Robert Merton states that the means of achieving these goals are not evenly distributed to all members of society. Not everyone can afford and a good college education and progress to become a hard working doctor or lawyer. Dues to the large numbers of low class people in this world this type happy life and financial status is many times not accomplishable. This causes a strain; the dictionary meaning of the word strain states "A great or excessive pressure, demand, or stress on one's body, mind, or resources" (dictionary.com). Merton reveals in his Strain Theory that this consequences in criminal and deviant...
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