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Merton's Strain Theory of Deviance and the American Society

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Merton's Strain Theory of Deviance and the American Society

Deviance comes in all shapes and forms, and is not limited just too legal or illegal acts a person does or does not commit. In this paper we shall specifically look at Robert Merton's Anomie-Strain Theory, which falls under the Positivist Theories and see how this relates and stacks up to the Constructionist Theory and the effects on our society. For Positivists and Constructionists have differing perspectives on deviance and the causes of deviance. Is there a right or wrong way to look at this issue? It is my belief as I will outline that both the Positivists and the Constructionists have their merits and reasoning in their viewpoints, but I tend to feel that the Constructionists, who have "emerged since the 1960's to challenge the positivists perspective" (Thio, 2010) have a better outlook on how to look at and work with deviance in the United States society.

Robert Merton was a distinguished sociologist who in 1938 developed what is known as Merton's Anomie-Strain Theory. This theory "attributes deviance to anomie, the breakdown of social norms that result from society's urging people to be ambitious but failing to provide them with the opportunities to succeed." (Thio, 2010) First let's define anomie as "social instability resulting from a breakdown of standards and values; also: personal unrest, alienation, and uncertainty that comes from a lack of purpose or ideals." (Merriam-webster dictionary, 2012) This would mean if we relate it to Merton's theory that the reason for deviance would be due to the social strains of society and not giving them the ability to achieve their goals. If we look at the United States society this would mean that the "American Dream" is enough for everyone who does not succeed at achieving their goals to be a deviant. The United States is a highly motivated society where individuals strive for lofty goals of success, but related to Merton's Theory it would mean that our society is not allowing our individuals to be able to attain these goals.

Secondly, let us define deviant as an adjective that describes a person as ": different from what is considered to be normal or morally correct." (Merriam-webster dictionary, 2012) If we contemplate what is considered to be normal or morally correct in a group of even five people there is likely to be five different views. There will be the basics that murder, rape, robbery, and torture to name a few will all be high on the list of deviant acts. When we contemplate other acts such as cheating on a test, doing drugs, running a stop sign, etc. it opens up an entirely new field of deviant acts; to which there are varying degrees of perspectives of what would be considered deviant. Now Positivists believe in Absolutism which is the belief that "deviance is absolutely or intrinsically real, in that it possesses some qualities that distinguish it from conventionality. Similarly, deviant persons are assumed to have certain characteristics that make them different from conventional others." (Thio, 2010) With this concept it then in turn makes sociologists that hold to the Positivist view believes that "deviant behavior has an attribute that inheres in the individual. They recognize the important role of social factors in determining a person's status as a criminal and that it changes in different periods and with different societies." (Thio, 2010) This means that the normal behavior and morals that apply in on society may not be the social norms and morals of another society.

If we contemplate this based upon the United States social norms and morals we are still setting up the lower-class and even the middle-class for failure with the fact that the "American Dream" is an ever evolving idea. It is the dream of owning a big house, luxury vehicles, and vacation home, having lots of vacation time during the year and anything else that leads to personal happiness and the life of material comfort. This definition alone is enough to label many more people in the United States as deviant than a regular every day person would tend to do. The reason for this is that the American Dream is an unachievable dream as it is continually changing. People in our society want more and more, and the more they have the more they want. It sets up society to fail just on the basis of personal happiness and that it is human nature to want more than what you have. This means that there really is no limit to the goals a person can set, but there is a limit as to how much a person can gain materially and socially as an everyday normal person. Let's face it not everyone is a Bill Gates, Warren Buffet or Donald Trump. If we really look at even these men they are continually working to strive for more so even at their level of success they are still striving for more.

Merton believed that the stain put on the lower-class citizen is that they are not allowed the luxury of fulfilling success in the United States where there is such a high value in our culture to succeed. Merton explained it this way "Contemporary American culture continues to be characterized by a heavy emphasis on wealth as a basic symbol of success, without a corresponding emphasis upon the legitimate avenues on which to march toward this goal." (Thio, 2010) Merton said that with the pressure of having to achieve this goal and the lack of means in which to actually accomplish the goal it is what has turned so many to lives of deviant acts. Merton then set up what in commonly known as the Goal-Means Gap Typology of deviance, which is divided into five sections 1. Conformists who are the group that tend to accept the goals of society and the standardized



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