Researchers are constantly looking for explanations for criminal patterns and crime rates among juveniles. They have presented many theories to serve as such explanations with strain theory being one of them; however, like many other theories, strain theory was pushed aside decades ago. It was not until recently that this theory was given new life by criminologist, Robert Agnew. Robert Agnew introduced this new development as the general strain theory. GST was the first supposition that was not tied to social class or cultural variables as it was in previous implications of Émile Durkheim’s anomie theory. Instead, Agnew’s theory refocused on societal norms that affect juveniles.
Jang and Johnson (2003) noted GST as being “one of the most important theoretical developments in criminology over the past ten years.” In his theory, Agnew (1992) identified three major types of strain: ‘‘strain as the actual or anticipated failure to achieve positively valued goals, strain as the actual or anticipated removal of positively valued stimuli, and strain as the actual or anticipated presentation of negative stimuli” (p. 59). He then specified strain-generated emotions and revealed conditioning factors to explain individual differences in juveniles’ adaptations to strain. GST is set apart from other strain theories through its inclusion of another variable, negative emotion.
The first type of strain, failure to achieve positively valued stimuli, results from an individual’s failure to achieve a valued goal. According to GST, there are three types of goals that members of society strive to accomplish: money, status and respect, and autonomy (Agnew et al., 2002). Strain is elucidated as “negative or aversive relations with others” that generates negative emotions motivating delinquent behavior (Jang & Jonson, 2003). Said another way, “the core idea behind strain theory is that crime sometimes results when people cannot get what they want through legal means,” (Agnew, 2001, p.141). While previous studies of strain theory failed to accurately measure all aspects of monetary goal setbacks, Agnew’s study did confirm that juveniles desire to gain large quantities of money as a means to succeed in life. His findings also show that individuals tend to resort to crime in hopes of achieving the desired status and respect within society. The final goal induced by this type of strain, autonomy, is said to mostly affect adolescents and the lower class because of their position in society (Agnew, 2001). The goals mentioned previously become strain when the individual is faced with certain obstacles and setbacks in their life.
Agnew agrees with the core idea of classic strain theory. However, after further examination of his very own life and that of those around him, he found that “the perceived inability to achieve success through monetary means or middle class status was not a major stressor conducive to crime,” (Agnew, 2001, p.141). In fact, Agnew stated that the...