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Chapter 2

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Carleton University
SOCI 2445
Darryl Davies

Sociology of DevianceChapter 2Positivist TheoriesAnomieStrain TheoryIn 1938 Robert Merton developed what later became known as anomie theory attributing deviance to anomie the breakdown of social norms that results from societys urging people to be ambitious but failing to provide them with the opportunists to succeedTwo other sociologists tried to improve on Mertons theory by adding the concept of differential illegitimate opportunitySince the early 1990s other attempts have been made to extend the theory by emphasizing how the strain generated in people by anomie or other social conditions causes them to commit deviant actsMerton The GoalMeans GapMerton found something wrong with Freuds psychoanalytic theory of deviant behaviourThe psychoanalytic theory says that criminal pathological or socially dangerous behaviour represents the free expression of the libido biological impulses or animal desires the individual is born withSociety discourages the individual from engaging in deviant activitiesMerton believed the opposite of this that society encourages the individual to engage in deviant activitiesEmile Durkheim was the first to use the term anomie as a sociological conceptBy anomie Durkheim referred to the absence of societal norms which he equated with the failure of a society to rein in its members limitless pursuit of material success Durkheim assumed that the lack of this normative control causes deviance This is similar to Freuds assumption that deviance will break out if society fails to discourage it by restraining individuals impulsesBut Mertons theory assumes just the opposite Deviance will occur if society encourages it by pressuring individuals to commit itIn Mertons view US society heavily emphasizes the cultural value of successThe cultural goal of success is freely available to all people regardless of their socialclass backgroundsThe institutionalized legitimate means of achieving the high success goal such as getting a good job are not freely available to all classes of people The society is structured in such a way that people of the lower social classes when compared with those of the higher have less opportunity to realize their success aspirationsMany lower class people resort to the illegitimate means of achieving their success aspirations such as stealing robbing and other similar forms of deviant activitiesSo lower class people are more likely to engage in deviant activities
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