Merton's Strain Theory
Briefly outline and highlight the contribution of Merton’s strain theory to criminology.
Robert K. Merton was an American sociologist that wrote in the 1930’s putting out his first major work in 1938 called Social Structure and Anomie. After publication, this piece was we worked and tweaked to counter criticisms. The importance of the time frame of which Merton initially began his work is significant, as during this time crime and the approach to crime was examined predominantly based on the individual and was explained from a psychological base. Merton on the other hand, applied sociology to crime. This is critical to understanding his strain theory, as his work is sociological in nature, following the core beliefs of
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A base for understanding crime can be seen in functionalism as this was one of the earliest attempts at explaining crime as an agent of society. Crime is functional to society as it is the core of the legal and justice institutions that provide employment and a manner of negative reinforcement of the social norms and values. Those who break the laws are punished so others are weary of committing an infraction and therefore adhere to the norms of society. However, the most important function of crime is in social control. Crime and deviance is the engine that the elites of society use to control the masses and maintain the status quo. This is the premise for conflict theory of crime. The norms and values that govern society and determine crime and deviance are in fact implemented by the elite capitalists who manipulate the laws in such a way that the working class is constantly oppressed and thus reinforces the capitalist agenda. Conflict theory states that crime does not exist until an act itself is determined to be criminal. Deviance is the first step to undermining the structure of the capitalist state and it is then labeled as deviant giving it a negative connotation. Members of society then avoid this behaviour as it can incur many harsh consequences such as being ostracized from society, their friends and family. To avoid this stigmatization,