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May 9, 2018 / C H Thompson

Merton’s strain theory – revision notes with evaluative points

People adapt to find a way of overcoming this strain to anomie.

  • Conformity -> an acceptance of goals and means (taken up by most people).
  • Innovation -> people accept the goals but not the means of achieving those goals, and so turn to crime as an alternative means of achieving goals.
  • Ritualism -> people give up on the goals but still accept the means, for example an employer who has abandoned the hopes of a promotion but still carries on working.
  • Retreatism -> people who give up on both the goals and the means of achieving them and so ‘drop out’ of society.
  • Rebellion -> reject the existing norms, values and aspirations of society and so rebel in order to create new goals and new means.

Evaluation of Merton

(+) Merton tried to explain the actual causes of crime.

(-) He focused on the individual responses -> doesn’t recognise there is a social pattern of crime and deviance affecting whole groups of people.

(-) He doesn’t recognise that there may be many outwardly respectable conforming successful people who engage in illegal activities, such as white-collar and corporate crimes.

(-) It only accounts for utilitarian crimes and not crimes such as vandalism and violence.


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