Robert Merton's Structural Strain Theory

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The structural strain theory was developed by sociologist Robert K. Merton as part of the functionalist perspective. Strain occurs when individuals find it hard to achieve cultural goals through institutionalized means (Merton, 1938). This theory suggests that there are five responses to strain, which include conformity, ritualism, innovation, retreatism and rebellion (Andersen and Taylor, 2009). The responses are developed based on two factors, which are, first, whether the individual accepts or rejects the cultural goals of the society and second, whether the individual accepts or rejects the instituitionalized means of achieving them. To understand this theory, we first have to understand what cultural goals and the institutionalized means of achieving them mean. In the modern society, the common cultural goal is to be ecnomically successful. And by successful, we mean attaining wealth that will enable us to afford at least the basic neccessities that we need to go about living our daily lives, like food and shelter. The more successful a person is, the more wealth he attains and hence, he is able to afford more than just neccessities. To put it simply, the more wealth a person has, and then he is considered to be economically successful. The institutionalized means of attaining this cultural goal then means the socially accepted and legal ways, such as getting proper education, which leads to employment. The higher the education, the better the skills the individual

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