Assess the Strengths and Weaknesses of the Functionalist Approach to Society.

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Examine the role of access to opportunity structures in causing crime and deviance. The access to opportunity structure in a society is the distribution of people’s access to occupations, education and other ways of supporting their lives and achieving goals. There are many different factors that have to be considered when examining the role of access to opportunity structures in causing crime and deviance. Merton’s (1998) ‘Strain theory and anomie’ argues that deviance arises from the structure of society and that unequal access to legitimate opportunity structures is the cause of deviant behaviour. The main point that Merton’s theory outlines is the fact that people engage in deviant behaviour because they are unable to achieve socially approved goals by legitimate means, and when most people share similar goals for example financial success in an unequal society not all individuals have the opportunity to achieve those goals through approved means, therefore they feel different, as the dominant rules on how to achieve success don’t meet their needs, and as a result deviance occurs. People may become frustrated and resort to criminal means of getting what they want, or lash out in anger, or find comfort for their failures in drug use. Merton’s explanation of crime and deviance combines two elements: Structural factors – society’s unequal opportunity structure and cultural factors – the strong emphasis on success goals and the weaker emphasis of using legitimate means to get them. For Merton, deviance is the result of a strain between two things: the goals that a culture encourages individuals to achieve and what the institutional structure of society allows them to achieve. Merton argues that there are different ‘modes of adaptation’, or responses to situations and access to opportunities that range from conformity – individuals accept the culturally approved

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