With Refernce to Robert Merton Strain Theory Explain Deviance

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Society has strong views on the existence of norms values and mores that it strives to preserve. However in the preservation of this breadth there exists deviance in the society. In light of this comment it is the purpose of this write up to explain the occurrence of deviance in society using the strain theory. The writer will define the terms values, deviance and the strain theory and make illustrations how the theory explains the occurrence of deviance giving relevant examples in different societies. Values from a sociological perspective refer to the views that are shared by society and of what is desirable, acceptable and draws a line between right and wrong. The values in society are clearly defined but are rather pronounced by society in different cultures. “The failure to achieve core goals that are not the result of conventional socialization and that are easily achieved through crime” can encourage delinquency (Agnew, 2001: 343). Such goals may include the desire for money, thrills/excitement, high levels of autonomy and masculine status. If barriers to achieving these goals are related to ascribed status, such as race or religion, people may see their inability to achieve such goals as unjust. This may encourage the adoption of illegitimate means to achieve these goals, since legitimate means are perceived to be blocked. These values are broad in any society ranging from education, economic success, marriage, cattle, and feminity or masculinity. On the other hand, Merton (1968) defines deviance as the characteristics of behaviours of individuals which violate group norms – including cultural mores and moral standards of the society. He further emphasizes that there has to be an inducement of a negative response from the group. Key to note is that deviant behaviour is defined by the group/ society because if the group does not give a negative reaction to behaviour then the behaviour is not considered deviant. Relatively, it is important to point out that deviance is contextualized in different societies in the context of age, gender, sex, culture and geographical location. For example in Zimbabwe mbanje smoking is considered deviant behaviour if one is not in Binga but is approved in Binga amongst the old folks in the communal areas. Similarly, gay marriages are considered deviant in some states of America and acceptable in others. It is from the bases of this explanation of deviance that Robert Merton further discussed deviance. In defining deviance and formulating the strain theory Merton was driven by the functionalist perspective that it is a necessary function in society which is beneficial. The foundation of his theory lay in understanding the causes of deviant behaviour in America during the Great Depression hence his strong emphasis on economic success and the continuous reference to the values of the American society. Anderson and Taylor (2009) explain that according to the strain theory deviance is caused by the tensions in the gap between cultural goals and the means people have available to achieve those goals. In essence the explanation lies in that society establishes values or goals which are to be achieved by the members of that society. However the social structure or the hierarchical making of the social structure has provisions for the means of the attainment of these values or fails to provide for the means of these goals. It is from this undertaking that deviance manifests itself as stated by Merton. He further explains that in a well balanced society people will strive to use the accepted means to achieve the societal values because of the balance. However, deviance will stem if the values and the means to the attainment of these values are not in balance. In addition, Merton (1968.189), points out that “the sole significant question becomes: which of the available procedures is most efficient in netting the culturally approved value?” It is in the bid to answer the question that Merton then...
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