Merton's Theory of Strain
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Merton's Theory of Strain
The following article is a discussion on the Roberts Merton theory of strain and the author wishes to capture the attention of scholars studying in New York, Chicago and London . The theory is an advancement of the work of Emile Durkheim who is one of the founding fathers of sociology. Robert Merton is simply advancing the arguments of Durkheim concerning the social structures that hold the society together and the effect of those structures on the individual.
Robert Merton theory of strain is based on the premise that every society has some sort of prescribed goals and expectations on every individual. These goals are transmuted to the individual through the process of socialization. The individual is then left with the responsibility of living up to these expectations and working their way to the top (Cohen, 1990).
However, the theory is cognizant that the individuals in the society cannot respond uniformly to these expectations, which the society has formed. This is because; each society has its own definition of success; in some societies, success is being materially wealthy, in other societies, having many children is considered a feat.
The responses of the individual to these expectations can be categorized into four major responses. The first response is conformity or adaptability. The individuals who respond with conformity simply agree with the society's definition of success and the improvised methods of attaining that success. These individuals accept the norms in the society and they strive to achieve their success through the means, which the society has stated that they are legitimate. Most of these people do not have criminal records and they do not believe in crime or having shortcuts on their way to success. Merton also argues that the conformists are also the well off members of society because; they have the resources and the means to achieve success legitimately.
The second group of responses is those of ritualists. These are more or less like the conformists, they do not accept the society's goals and expectations but they accept the legitimate ways of achieving those goals. However, they focus more on living legitimately more than achieving a goal. They focus on rituals and bureaucracy to shape the society but not to achieve any goal. Middle level managers would fall under this category.
The third category of responses that individuals incline to according to Robert Merton's theory is the innovators. These individuals agree with the goals that the society has set to be achieved in order to describe them as success. They do not agree with the methods, which the society has stated that they are the legitimate means of achieving those goals. They therefore devise new ways to achieve those goals even though the means are illegal and unaccepted such as stealing, drug peddling and prostitution (Merton, 1968).
The retreatists are the other individuals who are described by the theory of Robert Merton. They are individuals who respond by refusing to accept both the goals that the society has set for them as well as the means which the society has stated as the legitimate ways of achieving those goals. These individuals strive for anything in life, retreat into the utopian world of drug addiction, alcoholism and are known as escapists.
The fifth kind of response, which individuals ascribe to, is rebellion. This is where the individual reject the goals set by society as well as the legitimate means of achieving them. They however come up with their own goals and ways of achieving those goals. The rebels, the revolutionaries, the activists in any society fall into these category. The theory of strain is an attempt to scan people within the society and show why they either deviate from the norms and why others stay true to the values of that particular society.