Strain Theory Essay

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Discuss how Robert Merton’s strain theory fits into the functionalist theory of deviance and crime. Critically evaluate strain theory and the functionalist theory of deviance and crime from the perspective of conflict, feminist and symbolic interactionist theories. Robert Merton’s strain theory is, in essence, an extension of Emile Durkheim’s functionalist theory which, in relation to deviance and crime, attempts to provide a more specific understanding of how deviant behaviour or any sort of social instability is brought about by societal structures. Functionalists believe that the function of deviance and crime is key in maintaining social solidarity, whereby positive effects of such phenomena include the definition of society’s moral boundaries and norms, when society as a whole casts a collective response against what they consider to be right or wrong. Where Durkheim proposes that the state of anomie in society – that is, where norms and values appear to be either absent or diminutive – inevitably results in social disintegration (Adler and Adler, 2000:44), and thus greater propensity for deviant behaviour, Merton furthers the argument that anomie is in fact a product of the disconnect between the desire among members of society to attain certain social and economic goals and the ability of obtaining them. Strain theory holds that while these goals of material possessions, wealth, power and prestige (ie. The American dream; or the five ‘C’s, a similar phenomena in Singapore) are shared by all of society, class differences determines the ability to achieve them. The stratification system that exists in society inexorably allocates greater wealth of opportunities to those in the upper classes, while the lower classes become frustrated in their struggle to attain those same goals but without the (economic) ability to. This strain then leads them to find

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