Last Updated 17 Oct 2022

An Analysis of a Saint or Sinner through Merton’s Strain Theory of Deviance

Category Criminology, Theories
Essay type Analysis
Words 589 (3 pages)
Views 1037

Merton’s strain theory presupposes that deviant and criminal behavior is a result of deprivation within the societal structures. This is due to a failed integration of socially accepted goals with the means to achieve them. Within this theory Merton provides five adaptation modes which people utilize to cope with the strain. These adaptations may end in either good adaptation or development of deviant/criminal behavior. Al Capone is an example of this theory as he is a possible example of innovation adaptation leading towards criminal behavior as symbolized by his success within the crime world of the 1930s.

An Analysis of a Saint or Sinner through Merton’s Strain Theory of Deviance American sociologist Robert K. Merton borrowed Durkheim's concept of anomie to create his own theory which he called the Strain Theory. The theory presupposes that delinquency is not merely a response to sudden social changes as theorized by Durkheim but is instead a result of a social structure that fails to integrate predetermined societal goals with the means to accomplish them. This structural disintegration leads to the formation of deviant behaviors and ultimately criminal behavior.

According to the theory, there are five modes of adaptation that people form as a reaction towards the strain caused by the restriction from socially accepted goals and means. These are namely conformity, innovation, ritualism, retreatism and rebellion. These adaptations can either lead to both positive and negative outcomes. For example, adaptation through retreatism can lead to social withdrawal and thus creates for a better likelihood of turning towards drug and alcohol abuse (Sociology at Hewett, 1999).

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As for another example, the well known and iconic American mobster Alphonsus ‘Al’ Capone is a possible outcome of the innovation mode of adaptation. Born to Italian immigrant parents, Al Capone didn’t have a privileged childhood. Together with seven other siblings, they lived in lower Brooklyn, a notably rough neighborhood. Al dropped out of school at the age of 14 and became a member of two kid gangs, the Brooklyn Rippers and Forty Thieves Juniors.

Al Capone lived most of his life during the “gangland” era of American history to which he used his innovative skills to get ahead. The success of his mob organization, known as The Outfits, is solely credited to Al Capone’s organizational skills. Within five years of inheriting the organization from mentor Torrio, Capone has managed to take over most of the underground market of Chicago. Alternately, his rise to power also signaled the worst period of lawlessness America has ever faced (Chicago Historical Society, 1999 n. . ). Al Capone’s brilliant actions in the world of organized profiteering are classic examples of innovation leading to criminal behavior. Deprived by society’s structure of the means (education, opportunities) to attain the common goal of “good fortune through hard work,” Al Capone instead turned to the world of organized crime to attain his multi-million fortune. Deprivation is the primary cause of deviant behavior according to the strain theory but this doesn’t limit deprivation to the economic sense only.

If it were the case, then there won’t be any offenders in modern society who belonged to the capable and well-off , but as we all know that isn’t the case. In reality there are cases of privileged individuals who still manifest deviant or criminal behavior. Their behavior is still rooted in deprivation somewhere along the societal structure but this may imply other areas. Such areas may include metaphysical and psychological territories possibly including intellectual capacities, emotional quotients, psychologic anomalies and many more.

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