Theories of Deviance are limited in their ability to explain deviant acts if one adopts the view that these theories are universal. There is no universal, right or wrong theory, rather each theory provides a different perspective which only "fully makes sense when set within an appropriate societal context and values framework" .
The functionalist theories share a common structural explanation of causes of deviance . They assume that conformity in society is achieved through the existence of norms and values shared by the general consensus and that a high level of social integration is required for society to function successfully .
Merton's Anomie of Strain theory hypothesises that deviant behaviour is the result of a "disjunction between culturally defined goals to which most members of society aspire, and.....legitimate means for achieving the goals" . Thus socially induced strain causes deviant behaviour.
Merton argues that many people in the USA strive to achieve the "American dream" which recognises that all members of society have equal opportunities to achieve success and that deviance occurs when the goals take precedence over the means to achieve them as people resort to deviant behaviour as a result .
The theories main premise is that because lower-class people are under greater strain than people of upper classes, they are more likely to engage in deviant behaviour . However one cannot reduce deviance into a simple equation of poverty and alienation . Strain theory is limited in providing explanations for why every person living in poverty does not engage in deviant acts, and why individuals from upper classes of society do engage in crimes .
The anomie of strain theory is also limited in that it adopts the assumption that everyone in society shares the same goals of achieving wealth . Most studies of individual's priorities in life indicate marriage, friendships and health are of greater importance than material concerns such as success , which is at odds with the theories identification of material success as peoples main motivation. Another example of this is groups such as "hippies" who make a conscious decision to reject goals of financial success as opposed to the failure to achieve those same goals .
This highlights the need for a further explanation of why people engage in deviant acts, as clearly the failure to achieve goals of financial success is the only goal in society people strive to achieve.
The strain theory could also be viewed as being limited in explaining deviance in a universal and equal manner, in so far as that it relies exclusively on official crime statistics, which generally tend to be both unreliable and invalid as they fail to take the "dark figure" of crime into account and structural inequalities .
It is argued that the disproportionate number of lower-class members of society are imprisoned because they lack the money, power and connections of the upper-class individual , the result is the lower-class become a criminal justice statistic while the upper-class have the influence and power to avoid prosecution and subsequent conviction . Indeed it is discriminate to assume that because a person is poor that they are inadequate plus unable to cope within their social environment and cannot help but resort to deviant behaviour.
Feminist theories argue that the strain theory neglects the study of women and is limited in explanations of deviance due to its assumptions of gender specific theories of deviance . Gender specific theories also raise the issue of dualistic theories: one to explain male deviance, and one to explain female deviance . How can one theory contend to be universal when it has separate sets of theories for each sex?
Sutherlands differential association theory posits that deviant behaviour is contagious much like a disease . In other words people who are exposed to or associate with those who engage in criminal patterns of behaviour are...
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