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In What Ways Might Robert Merton's Anomie Theory Be Used to Explain 'london Street Gangs'?

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There are many different psychological and sociological explanations to why crime still exists within society. Robert Merton's theory can be applied in many ways to understand the London street gangs. Robert Merton (1938) focuses on the reason to why people in society commit an act of offence. Anomie theory provides an explanation of the awareness of crime the term. Merton (1938) argued that crime arises in society when there is a clash between the culture and the social structure (Merton, 1968). Merton believed that because of the lack of integration within society and the 'liminality' between social structure and culture causes strain and therefore development (Merton, 1968). According to Merton the social structure of society didn't 'yield limitless opportunities for everyone' (Gillis, 1996) for example 'socially stratified'.

Merton's theory derived from Durkheim's theory of anomie. Similar to Merton's idea, Durkheim believed that anomie 'emanates from a state of deficient moral regulation' (Giddens. A. 2006). According to Durkheim anomie only exists if the 'standards in a society are not clear to guide behaviour' (Giddens. A. 2006). Durkheim believed that people are 'correspondingly free to deviate' individuals have a choice of what they wish to do (Giddens, A. 2006). Though there are similarities between Merton and Durkheim, there are also many differences. According to Merton, anomie is the form that common incoherence takes; there is a considerable indifference 'between valued on cultural ends and legitimate societal means to those ends' (Akers, 2004). Merton believed that there are certain goals which are strongly emphasised by society and only society emphasises certain means to reach those goals (Giddens. A. 2006). According to Merton if an individual studies or works hard throughout their life they will be able to live their life fully satisfied, materialistically, this is also known as the 'American Dream' (Gennero . F. 2006). However, many individuals in society do not have equal access to the legitimate means to attain those goals (Gennero . F. 2006), he argued that these individuals are mainly lower class people, who have a lack of resources and are not financially stable as the middle or upper class people. According to Merton many London street gangs may be created due to the conflict of culture and social structure (Merton, 1968), London street gangs tend to be a group of people from a lower class family background and want to be living the American dream, this maybe because society shapes their mind through the social structure and creates an image of 'the perfect life' also known as the American dream, what Merton argues (Agnew, R. 1997).

Merton explained five 'adaptations of deviance' which cause the strain to anomie', this can also be applied to the London street gangs. According to Merton many individuals way of adaption will depend on the individual's attitudes towards cultural goals and the institutional means to reach these goals (Merton, 1968) for example, individuals who are a part of London street gangs will have a specific type of an attitude whether it be good or bad, to societies cultural goals and in what way will they be able to reach these set goals. The first mode is conformity; individuals will follow culturally approved goals and the accepted means to achieve these goals (Akers, 2004). Society's norms and values shape an individual's attitudes and behaviour (Akers, 2004). The second mode is innovation, this is when individuals will follow the accepted goals, but they do not accept the desired means to achieve them, the means to get ahead may be through robbery, embezzlement or other such criminal acts (Akers, 2004) According to Merton, this type of adaption tends to be followed by individuals who are a part of the street gang culture (Merton, 1968). The third mode, according to Merton is ritualism, this is where individuals reject and do not follow the society's goals (Akers, 2004) Individuals abandon the goals they once believed to be within their reach and dedicate themselves to their current lifestyle. They play by the rules and have a daily safe routine. The fourth mode is called retreatism, Merton believed this is when individuals abandon both the goals of society and the accepted means of achieving them, individuals often retreat into the world of alcoholism and drug addiction, they escape into a non-productive, non-striving lifestyle (Akers, 2004) Merton believed that individuals that are a part of the street gangs may have their own mind set and will do what they wish to because they reject both the cultural and social structure of society (Akers, 2004) The fifth and final mode is rebellion. In this stage, Merton argues that individuals have no regards for accepted goals and the means of achieving them. At this stage, they achieve their goals in any way they can. Individuals create their own goals and their own means, by protest or revolutionary activity (Maguire, M., Morgan, R., Reiner, R. 2007).

Albert Cohen (1955) is another sociologist who discussed the anomie and strain theory. Similar to Merton, Cohen, saw the disagreements, within American society as the main cause of crime (Cohen, 1973). Unlike Merton, Cohen believed that the tension between values and means occurred constantly through subcultures (Gillins, 1996). These sub cultural explanations can be used to explain the 'London street gangs'.

Many 'London' street gangs are in and around poorer areas of London and these gangs are mainly made up of lower working class people (CUMMINGS, SCOTT, 1993). Individuals often join street gangs because they are under stress of some sort, either educational or financial, under tension etc (CUMMINGS, SCOTT, 1993). These individuals dream of living the luxury materialistic life because they are not able to educate or work hard for any reason, they will want to find a quick and easy way to earn money and be able to live the 'luxury life' (Cohen, 1973). Cohen's work of 'Delinquent boys' could also be applied to London street gangs. Cohen found that young boys from working class backgrounds who were frustrated with their life often join together in 'delinquent subcultures, such as gangs' (Cohen 1955).

According to Cohen, these subcultures do not accept middle class values, and instead replace these values with norms that celebrate defiance, such as delinquency (Cohen, 1955). Many youths join 'gangs' because it is a way they are able to be recognised and taken notice of, these individuals make themselves a 'street reputation' where they are recognised and are taken notice of (Cohen, 1955). Cohen argued that education is not a way for these individuals because they



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