A Description of Anomie Theory of Deviant Behavior

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Anomie Theory
In the 1930s, sociologist Robert K. Merton generated what came to be referred to as the anomie theory of deviant behavior. In his view, deviant behavior—illicit drug use included—takes place when avenues to material success are blocked off. Anomie theory, as Merton developed it (1938, 1957, pp. 131–160; 1968, pp. 185–248), argues that in a competitive, materialistic, achievement-oriented society, success is encouraged as attainable for all members but actually is attainable to only a small proportion of the society.
Individuals who do not succeed must devise “deviant” or disapproved adaptations to deal with their failure. Those who have given up on achieving society’s materialistic goals, whether by approved or disapproved means, become retreatists. “In this category fall some of the adaptive activities of psychotics, autists, pariahs, outcasts, vagrants, vagabonds, tramps, chronic drunkards, and drug addicts” (Merton, 1957, p. 153). An extension of this theory holds that the person most likely to become a drug addict has already attempted to use both legal (or legitimate) and illegal (or illegitimate) means to achieve success, and has failed at both. The addict is a “double failure” who has
“retreated” into the undemanding world of addiction (Cloward and Ohlin, 1960, pp. 179–184).
68 PART I INTRODUCTION
TABLE 3-1 Sociological Theories of Drug Use
Theory Explanatory Factor Proponents
Anomie/strain theory Disjunction between means and ends Robert Merton; Richard Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin
Social control theory Absence of bonds to conventional society Travis Hirschi; others
Self-control theory Inadequate parenting, leading to Michael Gottfredson and lack of self-control Travis Hirschi
Social learning and Deviant socialization Edwin Sutherland; Ronald Akers; subcultural theory Howard Becker
Selective interaction/ Attraction to unconventionality, Bruce Johnson; Denise Kandel socialization and influence by peer groups
Social

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