A Critical Analysis Of Merton'S Theory Of Anomie

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This paper will argue that Robert K. Merton’s theory of anomie is a good foundation for the explanation of deviance in society; it is far too general in its assumptions and much too vague in its consideration of certain circumstances. The paper will begin with a review of Merton’s theory and then point out the how his theory succeeds in providing a universal explanation of the incidence of many forms of deviance, while failing to explain the occurrence of “white collar” crime and crimes of passion, assuming a uniform culture, and ignoring other theories which state that it is in fact the structure of society that deters us from deviance. The concept of anomie was originally developed by Emile Durkheim in his 1897 book, Suicide. Durkheim used the term anomie, which he borrowed from the French philosopher Jean-Marie Guyau, to describe the lack of social regulation in modern societies as one way that could raise suicide rates (Durkheim, 1897). The criminologist Robert Merton, applied Durkheim’s concept of anomie to modern industrialized societies, and redefined the term as the structure of a society in which there is a significant gap “between valued cultural ends and legitimate societal means to those ends” (Akers, 2000). The gap between society’s prescribed goals and the available means with which to attain those goals is what compels individuals to deviate from the accepted norm. Failure to achieve society’s goals through the normal means will obviously have different effects on different individuals. Merton further developed his theory by defining 5 “Modes of Adaptation” (Merton, 1957) into which all individuals in a society could be grouped. These 5 categories are Conformity, Innovation, Rebellion, Retreatism and Ritualism. Conformity is the most common type of the five modes. During this mode, people strive to obtain success by the most pure conventional means
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