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Strain theories

Strain theories

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Strain theories

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  1. Strain theories

  2. Two kinds of “Strain” • Anomie (Emile Durkheim): Society cannot regulate “natural” appetites of individuals • Rapid social change breaks down social controls • Strain (Merton) – Socialchange not required to explain some types of crime • Individual “appetites” originate in the culture • Heavy emphasis on material wealth • Social structure limits the ability of certain groups to satisfy this appetite • Result: pressure on certain persons to engage in deviant behavior

  3. Imbalance between goals and means • American culture is criminogenic • Strong forces promote goal of material success • Weak forces promote culturally accepted means • Protestant work ethic • Honesty • Education • Delayed gratification • Egalitarianism – everyone has an equal chance to gain wealth • If you can’t it’s your own fault – perhaps you’re “lazy”

  4. Strain and lower classes • Lower classes may have fewer opportunities to gain wealth through accepted means • Limits imposed by social structure - not by talents or efforts • Severe strain on lower class persons • Lack of socially acceptable “means” to achieve ends • Excessive emphasis on the “ends” - to become wealthy • Little reward for following institutionalized means • Those who use deviant means are not punished • Overall social consequence of strain • Merton - crime is a rational choice – a way to adapt to strain • Higher crime rates in the lower classes due to restricted opportunities

  5. Individual responses to strain • Conformity (accept goals and means) • In stable society, most persons will keep trying even if they do not succeed • Innovation (accept goals, seek out new means) • Non-criminal adaptations – training, education • Criminal adaptations – steal, deal drugs • Ritualism (reject goals, accept means) • Achieve minimum success • Retreatism (reject goals and means) • Drop out – vagrants • Rebellion (replace socially accepted values with new values) • Political rebellion, spiritualism

  6. Explaining gang delinquency - Cohen • Mostly not caused by strain • Non-utilitarian, malicious, negativistic (vandalism) • Goals are intangible • Status and self-worth • Who? • Youths without ascribed status (from a poor family) • Youths who cannot gain achieved status (competition with others) • Cohen’s theory similar to Merton’s “rebellion” • Form that “rebellion” takes is shaped by a group - not just by an individual

  7. Explaining gang delinquency –Cloward and Ohlin • Goals are both tangible (Merton) and intangible (Cohen) • Goal of serious delinquents: conspicuous consumption • Fast cars, fancy clothes, “swell dames” • Clashes with conventional values • Serious delinquents are looked down on: • What they do not want (middle-class lifestyle) • What they do want • If they lack licit and illicit opportunities to get what they want, may form a violent or “conflict” gang to express their anger

  8. Public policy adaptations ofstrain theory • Juvenile Delinquency Prevention and Control Act of 1961 • Improve education • Create job opportunities • Organize lower-class families • Provide services to individuals, gangs, families • War on Poverty - Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 • Crime and poverty based on social structure • Original intent to change social structure • Implementation geared to change poor people

  9. Criticizing strain theory - Kornhauser • Strain is evenly spread through society • Rich and poor always want more • Economic gain not a cultural value - it is intrinsic • Hard work (Protestant ethic) is a very weak value, easily overcome by gain motive • Criminals and delinquents not strained • Have low aspirations (what they want) and low expectations (what they expect to get)

  10. Defending strain theory -- Bernard • Strain not evenly spread through society • Concentrated in lower classes • Delinquents do have a gap between expectations and aspirations • Strain is primarily structural – not cultural • Illusion of street-corner men who generate “public fictions” to justify themselves: “too much of a man for any woman” • These excuses are misinterpreted as components of a “lower-class lifestyle • Adaptations described by Merton are real • Simple reactions to socially structured situations that individuals cannot control or overcome

  11. Meanings of strain -- Cullen • Strain means two different things • Characteristics of a society - doesn’t provide legitimate means to achieve culturally valued ends • Individual feelings of frustration, anxiety, depression that can flow from above • Structural inequalities encourage deviance • Unequal legitimate opportunities caused by social structure • Deviant response varies according to “structuring variables” • Social/economic circumstances • Technological advances • Specific opportunities (e.g., Columbian drug cartel) • Individual psychological responses • It’s the “feelings” that directly cause crime Social structural inequality  frustration  crime

  12. Individual strain -- Agnew • Negative relationships & stressful life events • Juveniles stressed by “noxious”, negative interpersonal relationships • If home or school is the locus, may not be able to escape • Delinquency and drug use a way to cope or manage the strain • May provide “relief” from stresses

  13. Societal strain --Messner and Rosenfeld • Agree with Merton that high levels of crime explained by cultural pressures for tangible success • BUT - expanding opportunities may cause more crime unless culture changes • Newly “enabled” persons lose their excuse to stay poor • Economic goals override influence of social institutions • Families, schools, politics – all are subservient to the economy • Recommendations • Support families with child care and flexible work schedules • Disentangle education from worker training • Protect citizens from the marketplace with social safety nets • Engage young people in community service • Give greater social prominence to goals other than material success