Classic Strain Theory, as introduced and defined by Robert Merton, is a Social Structure Theory used to help explain the effect one’s community, most notably lower class areas, has on their ability to achieve predetermined goals, usually considered culturally normal. Merton theorized that all people in a various culture and social structure have similar values, goals, and norms. He stated that within this social structure there are individuals who come from affluent upbringing and are therefore more likely achieve these goals, and most likely this will be attained through legitimate, culturally acceptable means. There are however, Merton said, lower class areas where individuals suffer from lack of educational and economic opportunities afforded the upper class, leading to resentment and anger individuals at their inability to achieve stated objectives and goals through legitimate means.
The resentment, anger, and hopelessness felt by the lower class individuals are described by Merton as “strain.” These strains manifest in social and psychological ways and can lead to what Merton calls “anomie”. Anomie, as defined by Merton, is a frustration with one’s inability to reach goals. The exact definition is a “state of normlessness, occurring when there is an acute disjunction between the cultural norms and goals, and the socially structured capacities of members of the group to act in accord with them.” This derives itself from society’s concept that the goals are stressed more heavily than the means by which they are achieved.
By stressing the overall culturally accepted goals, but not providing equal and equitable means to attain these goals, Merton felt that society had condemned lower class inhabitants to a life of criminal behavior, since this is the only means by which they can feel accomplished and find “wealth.” Youth growing up in impoverished, disorganized inner-city areas who suffer from “strain” and “anomie” tend to choose one of two roads: deviant behavior, such as theft, to realize goals, or rejection of socially accepted goals in favor of deviant goals, such as drug use.
The first road occurs because legitimate avenues for success are unavailable to many lower class youth. These youth instead turn to delinquent behavior in order to become “rich.” Emphasis is put on illegal means by which delinquents can acquire wealth and thereby feel a sense of success in their ability to reach socially accepted goals. This Mode of Adaptation, as defined by Merton, is called Innovation. Innovation is the “attaining of socially accepted goals through unaccepted means,” and Merton felt that this was the most predominate reason behind delinquent behavior within the lower class.
The second road, similarly created due to a lack of education and opportunities afforded to the lower class, leads to a need to escape the socially accepted norms and instead substitute deviant goals such as drug use, alcoholism, or toughness. Retreatism, this Mode of...