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May 9, 2018 / C H Thompson

Merton’s strain theory – revision notes

Merton (1938) created the strain theory, from Durkheim’s concept of anomie.

  • Merton said meritocracy is seen as available to everyone, when in reality people are restricted by social structures
  • consequently not everyone can achieve success – for example there’s only so many schools so no matter how desperate you are, there can only be so many headteachers
  • Merton also argued that people share goals (such as financial success and qualifications), and most accept the approved means of achieving these goals (such as by working hard and saving money)
  • However, as we are in an unequal society, not all people have the same opportunity of achieving these goals

This dynamic within society causes certain people to turn to crime as they face a sense of strain to anomie as they are unable to achieve success through these approved means, and so will break the law in order to achieve their own goals.


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