Robert Merton’s Work And Criminological Theory

799 words - 3 pages

Durkheim was raised in France during the second half of the eighteenth century, a time when individuals were regulated through society’s collective conscience which was heavily reliant on religion, enlightenment, and Darwinism. It was also a time of great turmoil generated by the French revolution in 1789 and the industrialisation of society, which created the division of labour and specialisation between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie (Gold & Bernard, 1986). One of Durkheim’s key themes is centred on social solidarity, where the transition from mechanic solidarity and the collective conscience of the church became punctured leading to the rise of individualisation (organic solidarity). Durkheim theorized that if the desire for goals was boundless, anomie would ensue, followed by the emergence of strain. The strain would manifest into a range of outcomes, one of which could be deviant behavior (Pfohl, 1994). As crime was an inevitable product of the strain produced by the alienation and dissatisfaction concurrent in the deregulation of society, anomie was therefore representative of suicide and the division of labour.

Merton’s upbringing in Philadelphia and the events that occurred during his writing influenced his take on anomie (Evans, 2006-2009). The Great Depression and the influx of immigrants into America during the nineteenth century turned the land of opportunity into desperation. Nonetheless, Merton came to the similar conclusion of Durkheim’s that deviance was a product of societal structures (Sztompka, 1986). However, because Merton was a middle-range functionalist, he questioned and furthered Durkheim’s concept of anomie from a different perspective. He looked at the smaller problems and tied it to greater society, whereas the grand theorist Durkheim focused on society as a whole. Merton therefore wanted to find out what produced anomie in the first place (Hunt, 1961). Even though Merton accepted anomie and its meaning of a normless society, he posited there were two parts. There was a dichotomy between the goal of wealth in society, and the insufficient means and opportunities to achieve these unlimited aspirations (Merton, 1957, in Cuzzort, 1969). As society encourages all citizens to strive for these goals, irrespective of socio-economic position, anomie thus becomes a problem of relative depravation, and it is this unbalanced process that can create deviance (Johnson, 1981).

To complement his theory, Merton established five modes of adaptation of how an individual responds to the schism/chasm between societal goals and means. Where, the constructed ‘American Dream’ ideal may produce strain for certain groups or individuals and lead to the attainment of culturally accepted...

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