I have chosen to write about Robert Merton’s Strain Theory. I find this theory particularly interesting, especially as it relates to crime and even education. As noted in our book Sociology in Our Times: The Essentials, the definition of strain theory is that people feel strain when they are exposed to cultural goals that they are unable to obtain because they do not have access to culturally approved means of achieving those goals (Kendall 164). For example, if your goal is obtaining wealth and possessions, then the culturally approved method for achieving this goal would include a job and education. For some, if they are denied a “legitimate” way of achieving this particular goal, they will gain access through “illegitimate” or “deviant” means (Kendall 164). Robert Merton borrowed, if you will, Durkheim's concept of anomie to form his own theory, called Strain Theory. It differs somewhat from Durkheim's in that Merton argued that the real problem is not created by a sudden social change, as Durkheim proposed, but rather by a social structure that holds out the same goals to all its members without giving them equal means to achieve them. It is this lack of integration between what the culture calls for and what the structure permits that causes deviant behavior. Deviance then is a symptom of the social structure. Merton used Durkheim's notion of anomie to describe the breakdown of the normative system.
Robert Merton identified five ways that people adapt to goals and approved methods of achieving them: conformity, innovation, ritualism, retreatism and rebellion. When we conform, we accept the culturally approved goal and means of achieving the goal. When we innovate, we accept the culturally approved goal, but disapprove of the means of achievement and opt for a different approach. When we ritualize, we abandon the goal altogether, but still conform to the means. When we retreat, we abandon both the goal and the means of...
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