Strain Theories Of Criminal Behaviour Essay

1997 words - 8 pages

Strain theories of criminal behaviour have been amongst the most important and influential in the field of criminology. Taking a societal approach, strain theories have sought to explain deficiencies in social structure that lead individuals to commit crime (Williams and McShane 2010). Strain theories operate under the premise that there is a societal consensus of values, beliefs, and goals with legitimate methods for achieving success. When individuals are denied access to legitimate methods for achieving success, the result is anomie or social strain. This often leads an individual to resort to deviant or criminal means to obtain the level of success that they are socialized to pursue. This is the basic premise of strain theory. This paper will explore the evolution of strain theories by first examining their intellectual foundations which laid the foundation for Robert Merton’s theories of anomie and strain. Merton’s strain theory will be discussed in detail including the modes of adaptation that people use when faced with societal strain. Finally, the paper will conclude with the strengths and weaknesses of Merton’s strain theory and an examination of the criminological theories and social policies it has influenced.
To gain an accurate understanding of strain theories it is best to first examine their intellectual foundations. One of the most important influences on the development of strain theories was sociologist Emile Durkheim. A structural functionalist, Durkheim argued that deviance and crime were not only normal, but also served a function in society. Durkheim believed that crime served the purpose of displaying to members of society what behaviours and actions are considered unacceptable as determined by societal consensus. According to Durkheim, even in a “society of saints” crime would still exist, as there would always be some behaviour that society would deem as inappropriate.
A significant concept developed by Durkheim is that of anomie, a term used to describe the breakdown of social solidarity and a state of normlessness in which members of society begin to feel alienated. In an anomic society, there is no longer a societal consensus as to what behavior is considered normal or deviant and people no longer know how to react in various social contexts. Durkheim stated that anomie would result for two reasons. The first reason was attributed to the the division of labor in society creating inequality, class conflict, poor social relationships, and a dearth of meaningful roles (Willis, 1982). Durkheim felt that a lack of meaningful roles in particular, caused individuals to accept social status and occupations that were below their level of talent and potential. This created frustration and strain as individuals felt as though they were not given the same opportunity to achieve success as others. The second cause of anomie that Durkheim stated was the disparity between needs and means (Willis, 1982). This meant that in order...

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