Chapter 4 - Crime inAmerican Society (Anomie & Strain Theories)
American as a Criminogenic Society
• The Chicago school believed that the roots of crime were embedded predominantly in 1
area of American society - city slums - & that people became criminal by learning
deviant cultural values.
• Although Merton never rejected this formulation, he outlined a very different social
process - one involving conformity to conventional cultural values - that he believed
produced high rates of crime & deviance.
Robert Merton (1910-2003) – Strain Theory (University of Columbia)
Structurally Induced Strain
− The disjunction b/w what the culture extols (the American Dream) and the means
provided by the social structure (limited legitimate opportunities) produces strain and
pressure for deviance
− Lower socioeconomic group – more strain and pressure
− Crimes committed as a result of strain
− Argued that social and economic structure limits access to theAmerican Dream
− Limited opportunities for moving up the social ladder
− Social structure limits access to achieve the American Dream/ goals of success through
legitimate means (ex: college edu, corporate employment, family connections).
− Your aspirations are culturally defined; your social structure can limit your ability to
satisfy those desires; and if you can’t satisfy those desires, there’s more pressure to
engage in deviant behavior
Strain Theory in Context
• Merton did not believe inner-city neighborhoods were fully disorganized and inherently
− Residents want to live the cultural dream but were denied the opportunity to leave the
slum which produced a pressure to deviate.
Typology of Adaptations
• Different ways existed for people to resolve the strains generated from the inability to
• Merton realized that most people, even if they found their social ascent limited, didn't
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• Instead, the modal response was for people to conform, to continue to ascribe to the
cultural success goal & to believe in the legitimacy of the conventional means through
which success was to be attained.
• Different ways in which people adapt
• Four deviant adaptations:
1. Innovation: Embrace success, but turn to illegitimate means.
Much criminal behaviour can be categorized as innovation.
2. Ritualism: Maintain outward conformity to the norms of governing institutionalized
means, but not the goals.
People adapt their goals so they can actually meet them
3. Retreatism: Relinquish allegiance to both the cultural success goal and the
institutionalized means (are in society but not of it).
People who relinquish both the cultural goals & the means to achieve it. This
accounts for a certain category of people who are involved in alcoholism, drugs,
4. Rebellion: Not only reject but wish to