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Learning Theory Versus Strain Theory Essay

1815 words - 7 pages

Over the course of history, sociologists have wondered about the causes of deviance. They all have different conceits of the factors of why an individual engages in deviant behavior. These ideas can all be classified into different categories of theories such as learning theory, social disorganization theory, labeling theory and anomie theory. This paper only focuses on the learning theory and the anomie, or strain theory. The learning theory was developed by Walter B. Miller and the strain theory was created by Robert K. Merton. Though both Merton’s article, “Social Structure and Anomie” and Walter B. Miller’s article, “Lower Class Culture as a Generating Milieu of Gang Delinquency” both discuss aspects of cultural deviance, there arguments contain several differences.
Merton primarily focuses on the materialistic goals all Americans are exposed to regardless of their position in society. The structure of society puts enormous pressure on people thus generating deviance. It also emphasizes certain means to attain the goals. Anomie occurs when there’s a breakdown of social norms and they are no longer present in society. This is known as normlessness. Merton suggests that anomie is the strain in the individual when norms conflict with society. Under norm conditions, crime and deviance increases. Norms and values govern people. In every society, there are values, goals and aspirations that are taught to the members. There are two phases of social structure. The first being the agreed upon goals that all the members should have

and the second phase that “defines, regulates, and controls the acceptable modes of achieving these goals.” Deviance results when there is a malintegration, when there is too much emphasis on the goals but little emphasis on how to attain these goals. Merton explains that there are 4 “alternative modes of adjustment or adaptation by individuals” to adapt to such strain. These alternatives are conformity, innovation, ritualism, retreatism and rebellion. Conformity is the most common and this is when individuals accept both the prescribed goals and means for achieving a goal. Innovators also accept cultural goals but have different means for achieving the goals. Ritualists completely abandon cultural goals but dedicate themselves to their current way of life and still obey society’s laws. Retreatists not only abandon the goals set by society but also the means. This includes drug addicts and chronic drunkards. Rebels create their own goals and means and reject the ones provided by society. Merton’s theory describes the various acts of deviant that lead to deviant behavior.
Miller’s theory states that the lower class value system initiates deviant or delinquent behavior. The learning theory attempts to describe how learning occurs. In his paper, Miller examines the focal concerns of lower class culture: trouble, toughness, smartness, excitement, fate and autonomy. He states that the most...

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