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Anomie or “Strain” Theories. Merton Agnew Messner and Rosenfeld. Durkhiem’s Legacy. Rapidly Changing Society “Industrial Prosperity” Anomie (Norms are Weakened). Human Nature as Insatiable; must therefore cap or control Social Ties Important. The Anomie/Strain Tradition (Today).

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Anomie or “Strain” Theories

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anomie or strain theories

Anomie or “Strain” Theories



Messner and Rosenfeld

durkhiem s legacy
Durkhiem’s Legacy

Rapidly Changing


“Industrial Prosperity”


(Norms are Weakened)

Human Nature as

Insatiable; must

therefore cap or control

Social Ties Important

The Anomie/Strain Tradition


The Social Disorganization and “Informal Control” Tradition (Last Class)

robert k merton
Robert K. Merton
  • Social Structure and Anomie (1938)
  • From Durkheim: Institutionalized norms are weakened in societies that place an intense value on economic success
  • Applied this to the United States
    • The “American Dream”
conflict means and goals
Conflict: Means and Goals
  • Cultural Goal in U.S.?
    • This goal is universal
    • (The American Dream)
  • Institutionalized Means?
    • Due to the social structure in the U.S., the means are unequally distributed
    • Segment of society with no way to attain goal
strain theory micro level


1. Conformity + +

2. Innovation + -

3. Ritualism - +

4. Retreatism - -

5. Rebellion +/- +/-

Strain Theory (Micro Level)
criticisms of merton s strain theory
Criticisms of Merton’s Strain Theory
  • Is crime a “lower class” phenomena?
  • Cannot explain “expressive” crimes
  • Weak empirical support
  • Why do people “adapt” differently?
agnew general strain theory
Agnew: General Strain Theory
  • Overhaul of Merton’s Strain Theory
  • Three sources of strain
    • Failure to achieve valued goals
    • Removal of valued stimuli
    • Can’t escape noxious stimuli
agnew gst
Agnew (GST)
  • StrainNegative Affective States
    • Anger, fear, frustration, depression
  • In lieu of “Coping Mechanisms,” anger and frustration can produce delinquency
  • StrainNeg EmotionalDelinquency
agnew gst1
Agnew (GST)
  • Tests of GST are more favorable
  • Is this theory a theory of “Strain” (in a sociological sense) or a theory of “STRESS?” (in a psychological sense)
crime and the american dream


Messner and Rosenfeld

the legacy of merton
The Legacy of Merton
  • In “Social Structure and Anomie”:
    • “Modes of Adaptation” (micro)
    • Discussion of why U.S. might be crime prone (macro) than other countries
  • Messner and Rosefeld, in the 1980s, revisited the macro part of the theory
elements of the american dream
Elements of the “American Dream”
  • Achievement
  • Individualism
  • Universalism
  • The “fetishism” of money
  • These elements encourage “Anomic conditions”
the american dream produces anomie
  • MERTON: Pursuit of financial success is “limited only by considerations of technical expediency.”
  • Lombardi: Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.
institutions in society
Institutions in Society
  • Social institutions as the building blocks of society.
    • The Economy
    • The Polity
    • The Family
    • Education
key issue for m r
Key Issue for M & R
  • These institutions sometimes have conflicting goals and values.
  • All societies can therefore be characterized by their distinctive arrangements of institutions
  • The U.S.? Economy Dominates: we are a “MARKET SOCIETY”
indicators of economic dominance
Indicators of Economic Dominance
  • Devaluation of non-economic institutional functions and roles
  • Accommodation to economic requirements by other social institutions
  • Penetration of economic norms into other social domains
implications of economic dominance
Implications of Economic Dominance
  • Weak institutional controls
    • Family and School are handicapped in efforts to promote allegiance to social rules
    • Single parent families
    • Poorly funded schools
    • “Weak institutions invite challenge”
culture social structure and crime rates
Culture, Social Structure, and Crime Rates


The American Dream



Economic Dominance

Weak Institutional Controls