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Chapter 8

SOC*2700 Chapter 8

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Department
Sociology
Course
SOC 2700
Professor
C Yule
Semester
Winter

Description
Saturday, Jan 26, 2013 Chapter 8: Strain Theories - Merton shifted focus away from rapid social change and instead argued that there were certain relatively stable social conditions that were associated with the higher overall crime rates in American society, as well as the higher rates of crime in the lower social classes - he used the term Social Structural Strain to describe those social conditions Robert K. Merton and Anomie in American Society - Merton argued out that many of the appetites of individual are not “natural” but rather originate in the “culture” of American society - the “social structure” of American society limits the ability of certain groups to satisfy these appetites - the result is a “definite pressure on certain persons in the society to engage in noncon- formist rather than conformist conduct” - the culture of any society defines certain goals that it deems “worth striving for” - most prominent cultural goal in American society is to acquire wealth - accumulated wealth is generally equated with personal value, and worth is associate with a high degree of prestige and social status - Merton argued that American culture specifically encourages all individuals to seek the greatest amount of wealth (Durkheim said that culture functioned to limit aspirations) - American culture is based on an egalitarian ideology that asserts that all people have an equal change to achieve wealth - all are expected to try, or they are call lazy and unambitious - cultures specify the approved norms or institutionalized means, that all individuals are expected to follow in pursuing the culture goals - means are based on values in the culture and generally will rule out many of the tech- nically most efficient methods of achieving the goal - all person cannot be expected to achieve the goals of the culture - the culture places a strong emphasis on the institutionalized means and the necessity of following them for their own value - the means must provide some intrinsic satisfactions for all persons who participate in the culture - the means are placed under severe strain - the goal has been emphasized to the point that the institutionalized means are little reward in themselves Saturday, Jan 26, 2013 - the person who achieves wealth, even if it is not by the approved means, still receives the social rewards of prestige and social status - strain tends to be more concentrated among person in the lower class - ability to achieve wealth is limited not only the the talents and efforts but by the social structure it- self - the severe strain on cultural values arises because (1) the culture places a dispropor- tionate emphasis on the achievement of the goal of accumulated wealth and maintains that this goal is applicable to all persons and (2) the social structure effectively limits the possibilities of individuals within these groups to achieve this goal through the use of in- stitutionalized means - this contradiction between the culture and the social structure of society is what Merton defined as anomie - argued that the high level of crime in American society was explained in terms of “cul- tural imbalance” - the imbalance between the strong cultural forces that valued the goal of monetary success and the much weaker cultural forces that valued the institutional means of hard work, honesty and education - Merton used social structure, not culture, to explain why lower-class people in America have higher crime rates than upper-class people - explanation focused on the distribution of legitimate opportunities - relatively concen- trated in high classes and absent in lower classes - the distribution of criminal behaviour is said to be a sort of mirror image of the distribu- tion of legitimate opportunities - there are 5 “adaptations” that a person can use to respond with: 1. Conformity - acceptance of goals and means, most people choose this 2. Innovation - accept the goal but not the means - humans are hedonistic - they always choose the most technically efficient methods of achieving their goals, unless they were limited by punishment imposed by society 3. Ritualism/Adaptation - rejective goal but accepting means - play it safe, lower mid- dle class 4. Retreatism - reject means and goals - dropping out of the whole game 5. Rebellion - replacing the values of the society with new ones, these may be political, spiritual, the person ceases to function as a member of the existing society and begins to live within an alternate culture - some individuals consistently choose one adaptation, while others may involve several adaptations simultaneously - these can be seen in sports too when winning is more emphasized than fair play Saturday, Jan 26, 2013 - the forgoing theory of anomie is designed to account for some, not all, forms of deviant behaviour customarily described as criminal or delinquent - the intention is to focus attention on one specific problem not attempt to explain all the diverse behaviours that at one time or another are prohibited by the criminal law - theorists have attempted to extend and refine Merton’s theories - Richard Cloward pointed out that the lower class often have a broad access to illegiti- mate means that exist in their neighborhoods - the mere presence of an opportunity is not enough unless one has been introduced to the ways of taking advantage of it Strain as the Explanation of Gang Delinquency - Albert Cohen found that most delinquent behaviours occurred in gangs rather than in- dividually and that most of it was “non-utilitarian, malicious, and negativistic” - this type of delinquency served no useful purpose, juvenile gangs stole things their did not want or need - purposeless crimes could not be explained by Merton’s theory - Cohen believed these actions were methods of gaining status among the delinquent’s peers - he concluded that gangs have a separate culture form the dominant culture, with a dif- ferent set of values for measuring status - Cohen saw youths as seeking the goal of status among their peers - he utilized the classic distinction between achieved status, which is earned in competi- tion with one’s own age and sex group, and ascribed status, which is acquired by virtue of one’s family - competition for achieved status normally takes place within the school - a solidly mid- dle-class institution - status in school is judged on the basis of such values as ambition, responsibility, achievement, deferred gratification, rationality, courtesy - youths who have no ascribed status by virtue of their families and who typically lose in the competition for achieve status are placed under severe strain - they can conform but must be content with a low-status position or they can rebel against middle-class values and set up a new value structure according to which they can increase their status and self-worth - youths who rebel tend to come together to form a group in order to validate their choic- es and reinforce their new values - common solution - the lack of status disproportionately affects youths from the lower class Saturday, Jan 26, 2013 - they often have internalized values that are different from those of middle-class chil- dren prior to entering school - Merton’s and Cohen’s theories differ in several respects: - Merton emphasized the utilitarian nature of crime, focusing on innovation, whereas Co- hen sought to explain the nonutilitarian character of much delinquency - Cohen’s theory is similar to rebellion, but it differ in that the particular form the rebellion takes is determined by a reaction against middle-class values - for Cohen, the choice of rebellion is linked to the choices of other members of the group whereas Merton portrayed the choice of an adaptation as an individual response - Cloward and Ohlin’s theory of gang delinquency returned to Merton’s emphasis on util- itarian nature of crime - agreed with Cohen that some gang delinquency is motivated by the pursuit of status by a reaction against middle-class values - but they argued that these youths tend to be less serious delinquents - the more serious delinquents are simply looking for money, not status, they are orient- ed toward conspicuous consumption - fast cars, fancy clothes, swell dames - these youths experience the greatest conflict with middle-class values since they are looked down upon both for what they do no want and for what they do want - it is assumed that there are no legitimate opportunities for these youths to improve their economic position - if illegitimate means are presented, then these youths tend to form “criminal gangs” in which the emphasis is on the production of income - if neither legitimate or illegitimate opportunities are available, then the youths’ frustra- tion and discontent will be heightened - the lack of opportunities is often a symptom of the lack of social organization in com- munity, which means there will be fewer controls on the youths’ behaviour - the youth tend to form a violent or “conflict” gang to express their anger - Cloward and Ohlin described a “retreatist subculture” - youths are unable to achieve the economic improvement they seek, whether because of the lack of opportunity or be- cause of internal prohibitions against the use of illegitimate means - they also fail in the resort to conflict and violence - this group turns to alcohol or to drugs and drops out 1960s Strain-Based Policies - in the 60s, strain came to dominate criminology and had a great impact on federal poli- cy toward crime Saturday, Jan 26, 2013 - the passage of the Juvenile Delinquency Prevention and Control Act of 1961, which was based on a comprehensive action program developed by Cloward and Ohlin - this program included improving education, creating work opportunities, organizing lower-class communities and providing services to individuals, gangs, and families - this was later expanded to include all lower-class people - the only clear result of this was the massive political resistance that was generated against this attempt to extend opportunities to people without them - this failure might be attributed to the opposition the programs encountered - strain theories argue that crime and poverty have their origins in social structural ar- rangements - solutions to the problem of crime are poverty require social structural change - most of the programs were taken over by the bureaucracies of poverty-serving agen- cies who immediately acted to protect and enhance their own bureaucrati
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