Merton's Strain Theory

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There are many theories that suggest that crime is constructed socially, or is a product of the society in which the crime is committed. One such theory, proposed by Robert Merton, is known as strain theory. While strain theory is a useful model for explaining how societal values can drive people to commit crimes, it has several flaws and does not focus on how laws are made and how this contributes to the formation of crime. While Merton suggests that laws are created from consensus within a society, it will be argued that strain theory can also support the idea that laws are a “product of conflict” (Hagan 5). Strain theory is founded on the idea that the goals of a society and the accepted means of achieving said goal causes strain that can …show more content…

In strain theory, laws are equivalent to the accepted means that people can use to achieve their goals, which are described as a product of tradition and consensus. According to Frederick von Savigny, laws are “generalized statements of the tendencies actually operating, of the presuppositions on which a particular civilization is based” (Hagan 5). In this view, laws are almost indistinguishable from the commonly held morality found in a society. This theory on the nature of laws appears to match Merton’s understanding of how goals and methods of obtaining these goals are formed. An apposing theory on the creation of laws views them as a “product of conflict” (Hagan 5). In this view, there are many different moralities, which compete to become law. In several ways, this theory seems to match strain theory better than the consensus theory. As discussed previously, strain theory suggests that when goals become impossible to achieve through accepted means (defined by laws) crime is likely to occur. But why do these means fall short? It could simply be a natural consequence of society, or it could be a result of lawmakers, who are generally rich and powerful, seeking to protect their wealth by limiting the upward mobility of the economically disadvantaged. An obedience to tradition described in strain theory could originate from this. Strain theory also maintains that there is one single commonly held goal in a society that everyone essentially feels driven to seek. In a country as large and diverse as the United States, this seems unlikely in many regards. There will inevitably be minorities whose views and goals are covered up by others who are more powerful. Even something as seemingly universal as the pursuit of wealth ignores a significant number of people who are content with having enough money, and then pursue other

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