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Strain Theory in Sociology – Overview & Strain Theory Example

This article discusses about Strain Theory in Sociology, it’s components and types and also provides a Strain Theory Example.

Strain theory is a sociological theory developed by Robert K. Merton that suggests that societal pressure creates strain on individuals who lack the resources to cope with them. This strain can lead to deviant behavior, which in turn can lead to social change.

What is the strain theory?

The strain theory is a sociological theory that suggests that people may turn to deviant behavior when they cannot cope with the demands of society.

The theory was first developed by Robert Merton in the 1940s and has since been elaborated on by other scholars.

The basic idea of the strain theory is that there is a gap between the goals that people have and the means by which they can achieve those goals.

When people cannot achieve their goals through legitimate means, they may turn to deviant behavior in order to make up for the discrepancy.

There are several different types of strain that can lead to deviant behavior. One type of strain is goal blockage, which occurs when people are unable to achieve their goals due to obstacles in their environment.

Another type of strain is maldistribution of resources, which occurs when some people have more resources than others and are able to achieve their goals while others cannot.

Finally, there is a cultural conflict, which occurs when people have different values and beliefs than those held by the majority of society.

The strain theory has been used to explain a variety of deviant behaviors, including crime, violence, and drug use.

You can also check out Examples Of Deviance In Sociology

Sources of Strain Theory?

There are three main sources of strain theory: anomie, institutionalized goals, and cultural goals.

Anomie is the feeling of alienation or disconnection that people experience when they are unable to achieve their goals.

This can happen when the goals are unattainable or when the means of achieving them are unclear.

Institutionalized goals are the goals that society expects us to achieve, such as getting a job, getting married, and having children. These goals can be difficult to achieve because they may require us to go against our natural inclinations or desires.

Cultural goals are the goals that we internalize from the messages we receive from the media, our families, and our peers. These goals can be difficult to achieve because they may not be realistic or achievable.

Components of Robert Merton’s strain theory?

Robert Merton’s strain theory is composed of four elements:

  • Means-ends rationality
  • Anomie
  • Rebellion
  • Innovation

Means-ends rationality is the idea that people are rational beings who make decisions based on cost-benefit analyses.

In other words, we weigh the pros and cons of our actions before deciding whether or not to do something.

Anomie is a state of normlessness. It occurs when there is a disconnect between our goals and the means we have to achieve them.

 This can lead to frustration and despair, which can in turn lead to deviant behavior.

Rebellion is a response to anomie. It occurs when people rebel against the established order in an attempt to bring about change.

This can take the form of violence or other forms of deviant behavior.

Innovation is a response to anomie that involves finding new and creative ways to achieve one’s goals.

This can involve breaking the law or finding alternative means of achieving one’s goals.

Classical Strain Theory

In classical strain theory, people are motivated to commit a crime by the strain or stress that is placed on them. This strain can be caused by a number of factors, including poverty, a lack of legitimate opportunities, and social inequality.

While some people may be able to cope with these strains in positive ways, others may turn to crime as a way to relieve the pressure.

Robert Merton was one of the first sociologists to develop this theory, and he argued that there are two types of strain: structural and individual.

A structural strain occurs when the social system put pressures on individuals that are difficult to cope with. For example, poverty may force people to turn to criminal activity in order to make ends meet.

An individual strain happens when an individual experiences personal problems that they feel they cannot cope with. This could include things like abuse, trauma, or mental illness.

While Merton’s theory has been influential, it has also been critiqued for being too simplistic and for not taking into account the role of individual agency.

Additionally, some scholars have argued that the theory does not adequately explain why some people who experience strain do not turn to crime.

You can also check out Best Sociology Research Topics

Merton’s 5 adaptations to strain?

Merton’s strain theory has been very influential in the field of sociology. The theory was first proposed by Robert Merton in the 1940s.

It is a theory that tries to explain why some people turn to deviant behavior while others do not.

Merton’s strain theory has five main components:

1) Goal blockage: This occurs when people are prevented from achieving their goals, such as getting a good job or getting an education.

2) Anomie: This occurs when there is a disconnect between people’s goals and the means they have to achieve them.

3) Strain: This is the result of goal blockage and anomie. It is the feeling of frustration and dissatisfaction that comes from being unable to achieve one’s goals.

4) Adaptations: This is how people respond to strain. There are four different adaptations that people can make: conformity, innovation, ritualism, and retreatism.

5) Deviance: This is any behavior that does not conform to societal norms. It can be either criminal or non-criminal.

Merton’s 5 Reactions to strain

Strain theory in sociology - overview & strain theory example 1
Merton’s 5 Reactions to strain

Strain Theory Example Essay

Elise seeks to find education, this is her culturally defined goal. However, the barriers which obstruct her from attaining these goals is her financial situation. Because she lives in a very poor section of Philadelphia, in a single-parent household, being the eldest among four children, higher education does not fit to seem an option for her.

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Strain theory in sociology
Strain Theory in Sociology

Even though her mother has always been supportive of her schoolwork, there are just no financial means for her to be able to attain her higher goals of going to medical school. Being in a low-income economic environment, Elise’s social standing does not guarantee her to be able to reach her goals as easily as those who are in a well-off socio-economic sphere.

The socially acceptable means of achieving Elise’s goals are very limited. She can always apply for a student loan and work while she studies. This would be very difficult for a med-student, though. Or, she can choose to work for a while and earn enough money to support herself through medical school. However, this option would take a long time, and it would add to the frustration of her situation. If Elise is motivated enough to achieve her goal, she would be able to do this, but if she lets the social strains get to her, she may just be pushed to deviate from society. Elise can achieve her goals in a conformist way if she were to follow the norms of society, and do what is considered acceptable by the measures of society. Or, she can choose to deviate, and approach her situation as an innovator. She can do this by committing robbery, soliciting prostitution or even drug dealing. These ways will get her to her goal faster, but is considered wrong according to society’s standards.

Durkenheim states that deviance is whatever society deems as wrong. It can be something very small and informal, such as leaving smelly garbage bags in your front lawn, or it can be something big, like committing first degree murder. Whatever the wrong act is, it is based on how society sees it, and if society claims it to be socially acceptable or not. Deviance does not have to be a bad thing all the time, it can be something in which people look down upon, but then again if it weren’t for deviant behavior in history, there wouldn’t be great changes. Deviance is not just doing something wrong, it is something against the norms of society. For example, if the society in which Elise lives in believes that no woman can enter medical school, then her goal to be able to further her education in medical school would be wrong. It all has to do with the functionalisms in society and this way we can better understand how deviance is actually good for society.

Power plays a big role in what is considered to be deviant and what is considered acceptable in society. According to the strain theory, power is unequally distributed in society. People who are less fortunate and who live in economically struggling places have more chances of being labeled as deviant and greater punishments. Whereas, those who are better-off in society will get a minor slap on the hand if ever they perform a deviant act. This is because the crimes, or deviations committed by those people living on different spectrums are very different. Someone living in an impoverished area will commit a petty crime of robbery in something like a convenience store, and someone who lives in a better-off society can commit the act of robbery, but doing it in the way of corporate fraud, or something to that effect.

It is because of labeling that’s why society can claim to know what is deviant and what is not. It’s not necessarily about the act itself, but how people may react to the act. For example, in the United States, it is completely normal for women to wear shirts which are sleeveless, however in Muslim countries this would be looked down upon by society. It is not that the act is terribly wrong, it’s how people from different societies and cultures look at the act.

You can also check out Short Answer Sociology Quiz

1. What is the strain theory in sociology?

Strain Theory: An Overview. It is in the realm of culture that our values, beliefs, goals, and identities are developed. These are developed in response to the existing social structure of society, which is supposed to provide the means for us to achieve our goals and live out positive identities.

2. What is the strain theory of crime and deviance?

All strain theories acknowledge that only a minority of strained individuals turn to crime. Emile Durkheim developed the first modern strain theory of crime and deviance, but Merton’s classic strain theory and its offshoots came to dominate criminology during the middle part of the 20th century.

3. What is Merton’s strain theory of crime?

Strain theory was developed by Robert king Merton in 1957, which states that, social structure of society compel an individual to commit crime. When an individual in a society cannot achieve culturally approved goal via culturally approved ways, it can be stressful for him and may leads to deviant behavior.

4. What are the limitations of strain theory?

Strain theory best applies only to the lower class as they struggle with limited resources to obtain their goals. Strain theory fails to explain white collar crime, the perpetrator of whom have many opportunities to achieve through legal and legitimate means. Strain theory fails to explain crimes based in gender inequality.

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