Robert Merton Theory

Topics: Alcohol

The sample essay on Robert Merton Theory deals with a framework of research-based facts, approaches and arguments concerning this theme. To see the essay’s introduction, body paragraphs and conclusion, read on.

It is rightfully argued that crime, whether or not in a contemporary society, is an extremely complex and multi-faceted Phenomena that has puzzled academics for many years. Theories that aim to rationalise the causes of crime and understand the origin of criminal behaviour are often criticised for being too biased or deterministic in their research studies.

Many have been of great influence and seen to explain (to an extent) the cause of crime but none has fully decoded the mystery of why people commit crime.

Merton’s anomie theory aimed at explaining deviance from a ociological perspective as opposed to previous academic theories on crime and criminals. The first well known study of crime and criminals is that of one who is often referred to as the ‘father of criminology’, Cesar Lombroso.

Lombroso’s argument was based around the Darwinian theory of human evolution and his theory argued that criminals were a throw back to an earlier period of human progression. In other words, they were less evolved humans, with visible physical features such as large ears and big lips.

His theory suggested that criminals were born and not made therefore, where genetically prone to criminality. Merton’s argument was to the contrary. Rather than observing the individual criminal as being subhuman, he questioned societies influence on the individual.

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In his 1968 book, Merton argued that ‘it no longer appears to be so obvious that man is set against society in an unceasing war between biological impulse and social restraint.

The image of man as an untamed bundle of impulses begins to look like a caricature rather than a portrait. Sociological theories on crime and deviance, have always disagreed with the idea of biology being the cause of societies problems and thus, would rather emphasize the nfluence of external societal factors on the causes of crime. Individual differences are often disputed or ignored, and the explanation of the overall collective behaviour is seen to correlate with the influence of institutions. Being a sociologist, Merton’s Anomie (or strain) Theory also attempts to rationalise and understand crime from such a social perspective.

Robert Merton Theory Of Deviance

In his theory, which, is an adaptation of Durkheim’s earlier theory of anomie, Merton suggests that for most, deviance and criminality does not stem from ‘pathological personalities’ but from the culture and structure of society itself2. Merton’s strain theory is an adaptation of Durkheims earlier theory of ‘anomie’, which described a period of ‘normlessness’ when the general value consensus was lost and people didn’t know the parameters of acceptable behaviour.

Unlike Durkheim however, Merton argued that anomie was not brought about by a sudden social change but by a society which assigns the same goals to all its members but affords them unequal opportunities to attain these goals. For Merton, irrespective of the role of biological impulses, there still remained the further question of why it is hat the frequency of deviant behaviour varies within different social structures and how it happens that the deviations have different shapes and patterns in different social structures.

The new adapted theory employs this functionalist idea of social norms and values and suggests that people become deviant when they cannot fulfil societies ‘expected’ of success through the ‘normal’, accepted, legal channels such as education, talent and hard work. Being an American sociologist, Merton utilized the idea of the idea of the American dream to illustrate his theory. Contemporary American culture appears to approximate the polar type in which great emphasis upon certain success goals occurs without emphasis upon institutional means. -Merton 1968 According to the American dream, everyone in the American society is equal as created by God. They all have not only the right, but the opportunity and ability to achieve great financial success through hard work and dedication.

Merton’s theory was simple- people are bombarded with such high expectations and ‘strain’ is put upon them by society to succeed. Such success is measured by financial achievements and material wealth. The American dream states that everyone has the capability to own a Cadillac and a Beverly Hills mansion. but little attention is given to the accepted institutionalised means of gaining them. Some are capable of achieving such success through the socially accepted means but due to the problem of societal inequality (observably, race and gender discrimination), not all will be given the opportunity to achieve such goals. Some that can’t achieve these set goals in the legal way, will turn to illegal alternatives. Merton understood the importance of individual differences however and importantly oted the fact that not everyone that was unable to achieve society’s goals through the accepted means turned to deviance.

His primary aim therefore, was to understand why some people conformed to the socially accepted methodology and others didn’t, or became deviant. People react to societies strains in different ways and for Merton, these individual differences could be summed up in 5 groups; conformity, innovation, ritualism, retreatism, and rebellion. Individuals who fall under the conformity genre accept both the goals as well as the set methods for achieving those goals. They are the academics and those who follow the required means of achieving success.

They may not always achieve the American dream but they reach a level of self sustenance which is respected. Those who are classed in Merton’s innovation concept, are creators or innovators. Although they are unable to achieve societal goals through the set means, they accept the goals but invent their own means of achieving them, often illegal ways. In ritualism, individuals abandon the goals they once believed to be within their reach and dedicate themselves to their current lifestyle. They play by the rules and have a aily safe routine.

Retreatism is the reaction of those who reject both the goals and the means of achieving such goals. They often retreat into the world of alcoholism and drug addiction. They escape into a non-productive, non-striving lifestyle. Finally, rebellion is the mode in which individuals not only reject the required goals and accepted means but alienate themselves from them. They seek to create a society where a closer correspondence will be made between merit, effort and reward. The main part of Merton theory that relates to crime and criminal behaviour is his ‘Innovators’ strata.

This is where Merton highlights the origin of modern day criminality in the western world thus this will be the main focus of this essay. Innovators, as stated above, are those who invent their own (illegal) means of achieving society’s success. They are the fraudsters, drug dealers, muggers, embezzlers and even white collar criminals. It is agreeable that many monetary crimes are committed due to financial reward and his theory carries its greatest strength in its explanation of economic and ‘white collar crime’. Merton argued that the idea of ‘the sky’s the limit’ encourage people hat already have wealth to continue to seek more.

This is also seen in large corporations where businesses are expected to continue to make a profit and the businessmen cross the blurred line of what is and isn’t legal in corporate finance. They become innovators as they try to find ways to improve their businesses. Indeed, this applies equally well to Britain, especially in light of the competitive market created by Thatcher in the `80s. However, where Merton’s theory succeeds in explaining crime for economic gain, it fails in its explanation of other ypes of crime which are widespread in the UK.

A research study that supports an element of Merton’s theory is that of John M. Hagedorn. In his 1987 study entitled ‘Homeboys, Dope fiends, Legits and New Jacks’, Hagedorn interviewed 47 members of 19 Milwaukee male and female gangs. Although Merton fails to address gang crime in his theory, this study shows some understanding of anomie. The drug dealers and criminals in the gang claimed society had failed them through racism and discrimination. The only way to make a good living according to the gang members, was from the ‘streets’.

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Robert Merton Theory. (2019, Dec 07). Retrieved from

Robert Merton Theory
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