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SOC205H5 (21)
Chapter 4

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University of Toronto Mississauga
Paula Maurutto

Chapter 4 Crime inAmerican society Anomie and strain theories • Robert Merton joined with Ashley-Montagu offered a stinging rebuttal to Earnest Hooton’s biological theory of crime. Hooton proposed that comparisons between prisoners and non-criminals showed that offenders possessed a distinct set of bodily features • Although not dismissing the possibility that biology played a role in offending, Merton andAshley suggested that the sources of criminal behaviour were decidedly cultural and social • For Merton, the key ingredient to crime was not neighbourhood disorganization ( Shaw and McKay) but theAmerican Dream. The inability of manyAmericans to achieve this goal had dire consequences for the society Merton’s Strain theory 1. Structurally induced strain: TheAmerican society places an extraordinary emphasis on economic success aka theAmerican Dream 2. The disjunction between what the culture extols (universal striving for success) and what the social structure makes possible (limited legitimate opportunities), therefore, places large segments of theAmerican population in the strain-engendering position of desiring a goal they can’t reach through conventional means. This produces intense pressure for deviation. 3. Typology of adaptations: Merton proposed that different ways existed for people to resolve the strains generated from the inability to attain stress. • He delineated 4 deviant modes of adaptation: 1. Innovation: this encompasses those who continue to embrace pecuniary success as a worthy end but turn to illegitimate means when they find their legitimate prospects for economic gain blocked 2. Ritualism: maintain outward conformity to the norms governing institutionalized means. They mitigate their strain, however, by scaling down their aspirations to the point where these ends can be reached comfortably 3. Retreatism: makes a more dramatic response. Strained by the expectations of social ascent through conventional lifestyles, they relinquish allegiance to both the cultural success goal and the norms prescribing acceptable ways of climbing the economic ladder 4. Rebellion: citizens who not only reject but also wish to change the existing system.Alienated from prevailing ends and normative standards, they propose to substitute a new set of goals and means • Merton borrowed the notion ofAnomie from Durkheim. Durkheim used the concept to describe a social condition in which institutionalized norms lost their power to regulate human needs and action • Merton did not believe it completely but learned that institutionalized norms will weaken – anomie will take hold – in societies placing an intense value on economic success.At this point the question becomes “which of the available procedures is most efficient in netting the culturally approved value?” • Fluctuations in levels of anomie, whether over time or within certain sectors of society at any given time, can be expected to determine not only overall rates f deviance but also rates of particular kinds of deviance – including crime, the prototypical innovative response. • As anomie becomes prevalent, people are free to pursue success goals with whatever means are available – legitimate or illegitimate • Merton did not believe that life in a slum neighborhood inevitably was criminogenic. Thus, youngsters were led into crime not so much by the life in the slum, as the Chicago school claimed, but the denial of opportunity to leave the slum. • It made sense that crime and deviance would be a consequence of a system that was to blame for unfairly holding back many of its citizens Status Discontent and Delinquency • Cohen proposed that delinquent subcultures, like all subcultures, arise in response to the social problems that people face. Following Merton’s insights, he noted that lower-class youths are disadvantaged in their efforts to be successful and achieve status in conventional institutions • Consequently, they are denied status in the respectable society because they cannot meet the criteria of the respectable status system • To solve these problems, the delinquent subculture, Cohen contended, deals with these problems by providing criteria of status which these children can meet. They substitute a set of conventional values with oppositional values Delinquency and opportunity • Richard Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin’s work brought together the traditions of the Chicago school and strain theory • They called their work the opportunity theory • They argues that slum youths face the problem of lacking the legitimate means-the opportunity- to be successful and ear status • They believed the disparity between what lower-class youth are led to want and what is actually available to them is the source of a major problem of adjustment. It causes intense frustrations and the exploration of nonconformist alternatives may be the result • They believed people couldn’t become any criminal they want; one must have access to the requisite illegitimate means (contact with thieves, residence in a slum neighborhood) • They proposed that delinquent subcultures could emerge and persist only in areas where enough youths were concentrated to band together and to support one another’s alienation from conventional values • In organized slum areas for example, criminal subcultures are possible because older offenders serve as role models for a stable criminal life and train youths in the performance of illegal enterprises • In more disorganized neighborhoods on the other hand, lacking the opportunity to embark on more lucrative, utilitarian illegal career, youth turn to violence as a way of establishing a “rep” or social status. Therefore, conditions are ripe for the emergence of a conflict or fighting oriented subculture • They also identified a third subcultural form (the other 2 are criminal and conflict): the “retreatist”. This is for the youths who are double failures and turn to drugs. They not only failed in school but also to find a place for them in criminal or conflict subcultures Agnew’s general strain theory • ForAgnew, the major strains conductive to crime seemed to be more immediate in nature, such as being physically abused by a peer or having a serious argument
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