Strain Theory - Criminology

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STRAIN THEORY Crime can be defined as any action that is in violation of the law and for which punishment is imposed, however, literally defining crime is often difficult as the constant changing laws throughout time blur the line in what constitutes a criminal act and an offender. Criminologists through the ages have presented their definitions of crime, providing theories that analyze why crime is committed and, more importantly, how it may be prevented. One of the prominent theories in explaining crime is the strain theory, first developed in 1938 by Robert K. Merton who sought to explain the relationship between social structure and delinquent behavior (Bernard, Snipes & Gerould; 2010). Merton’s work on the strain theory was formulated in response to Emily Durkheim’s conception of “anomie” – that is, a breakdown of social norms or rules that contributes to the social malady of crime (LaCapra; 1972). Durkheim’s work in the 19th century argued about the effects of rapid social change on anomies, an experience he himself witnessed occur during the revolutionary period in France. Durkheim believed that, in modern societies, the volume of criminal behavior would increase during periods of rapid social change. Robert Merton adapted Durkheim’s theory to American society, but instead of focusing on rapid social change, he argued that there were certain relatively stable social conditions that were associated with the higher over-all crime rates in American society, as well as with higher rates of crime in the lower social classes (Bernard, Snipes & Gerould; 2010). His research based on this conception came to be known as “strain theories.” Merton’s strain theory is defined as the strains caused by a societal structure that may pressure citizens to commit crime (Marmo, De Lint & Palmer; 2012). Unlike previous theories, where explanations of crime
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