This theory basically argues that when individuals feel pre…

This theory basically argues that when individuals feel pressure and/or strain to attain certain cultural goals they may resort to different forms of deviance to alleviate the pressure and achieve specific social goals.

One prominent theory in the study of deviance is strain theory, which seeks to explain why individuals engage in deviant behavior. Developed by sociologist Robert Merton in the 1930s, strain theory posits that societal pressures and strains influence an individual’s likelihood of engaging in deviant behavior.

According to strain theory, individuals in society are socialized to desire certain cultural goals such as financial success, material possessions, and social status. These goals are often referred to as the American Dream – the ideal of achieving economic success and upward mobility. However, not all individuals have equal opportunities to achieve these goals. Societal structures and inequalities, such as limited access to education, discrimination, and economic disparities, create strains or pressures that impede individuals’ ability to achieve desired goals.

When individuals experience strain, they may adopt different strategies to cope with their inability to attain cultural goals. Merton identified five possible reactions to strain: conformity, innovation, ritualism, retreatism, and rebellion.

Conformity is the most common response to strain. Conformists accept both the cultural goals and the means to achieve them. They conform to societal expectations and norms, working towards achieving their goals through legitimate means such as getting an education, finding a job, and accumulating wealth.

In contrast, innovators accept the cultural goals but reject the conventional means to achieve them. They often resort to deviant behavior and illegal activities to attain their desired goals. For example, an individual who desires material wealth but lacks the means to achieve it through legitimate channels may engage in activities such as theft or drug dealing.

Ritualism refers to individuals who abandon their aspirations for cultural goals but continue to adhere to the means of achieving them. They conform to societal expectations of working hard and following the rules, but they no longer believe they will achieve their desired goals. For example, someone who works diligently in a dead-end job with no hope of promotion or financial success may be considered a ritualist.

Retreatism involves individuals who reject both the cultural goals and the means to achieve them. They often withdraw from society, becoming isolated or engaging in substance abuse. Retreatists may feel that they have no chance of attaining the desired goals and thus seek escape or refuge from societal pressures.

Rebellion is the most extreme reaction to strain. Rebels not only reject the existing cultural goals and means but actively seek to replace them with alternative goals and means. They may advocate for social change or engage in revolutionary activities to challenge the existing social order. Rebellion can take the form of activism, political movements, or even acts of terrorism.

Merton’s strain theory has been influential in understanding various forms of deviant behavior. It highlights the role of societal pressures and inequalities in shaping individual responses to strain. By examining the ways individuals adapt to strain, strain theory provides insights into the diverse manifestations of deviance in society.

However, strain theory has also faced criticism. Some argue that it primarily focuses on lower-class individuals and fails to adequately address the role of power and privilege in determining the likelihood of engaging in deviant behavior. Additionally, strain theory is criticized for oversimplifying complex societal dynamics and failing to account for other factors that contribute to deviance, such as socialization, psychological factors, and individual choices.

In conclusion, strain theory suggests that individuals may engage in deviant behavior as a response to the pressures and strains they experience in society. The theory offers explanations for various types of deviant behavior and highlights the role of societal structures and inequalities. While strain theory has its limitations, it remains a valuable framework for understanding why individuals resort to deviance in their pursuit of cultural goals.