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Sociological Theories: The Brief Version

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1 Sociological Theories: The Brief Version

2 Structural-Strain Theory Robert Merton
Conditions in society result in unequal distribution of legitimate (conforming) opportunities for success. An absence of legitimate opportunity for success contributes to deviance.

3 Goal-Means Gap Theory Robert K. Merton
Cultural Goals: A Part of Social Structure Cultural Goals--goals strongly promoted by a culture. Individuals in a culture are expected to desire the achievement of these goals. Can include such things as financial success, prestige, winning, etc. Merton seemed to focus mostly on financial success/prestige as the cultural goal most promoted in American culture.

4 Cultural Means: A part of social Structure
Cultural Means--the accepted, socially appropriate, LEGITIMATE methods for achieving cultural goals. Cultural Means may vary from one culture to another. In U.S., cultural means would include going to school, working hard, playing by the rules, making wise investments, etc.

5 Strain: Disparity (Gap) Between the Goals and Means
An extreme emphasis on a cultural goal without access to legitimate cultural means produces strain. People feel pressure to desire and achieve the goal but may not have access to legitimate cultural means. This gap between goals and means may contribute to deviant behavior.

6 Deviant Adaptations to Strain
Conformity--accepts the goals and means. Innovation--accepts the goals but rejects the means in favor of illegitimate means. Ritualism--rejects the goals but accepts the means. Retreatism--rejects the goals and the means. Rebellion--rejects the goals and means, and actively promotes new goals and means.

7 Additional Points Merton predicts that the greatest proportion of crime will be found in lower classes, because of disproportionate lack of access to legitimate means. May limit applicability of theory. May be better to focus on the issue of disparity between aspirations and means, regardless of starting point. If we do this it becomes more than a social class-crime theory. Theory may be also used to understand wealthy or middle class deviants.

8 Examples Disclaimer: These do not prove the theory. They only provide food for thought concerning its validity. Marijuana Farming among farmers and ranchers in Georgia and Montana Poor kids who turn to dealing drugs Politicians who take bribes and kickbacks Medical Doctors Who Provide Fraudulent Billings to Insurance Companies


10 Control Theories Views humans as naturally deviant--will deviate unless controlled. Deviance occurs because individuals are not adequately controlled. Sources of control include family, self-concept, attachments to mainstream society, legitimate authority. Some control theorists place great emphasis on family as agent of control.

11 Differential Association Edwin Sutherland
Deviant behaviors are learned just like any other behavior. Learn how to deviate and attitudes that support deviation Learning takes place in close/intimate relationships Positive reinforcement of deviant behavior contributes to learning.

12 Neutralization Theory
Deviant behavior occurs, in part, because people are able to rationalize or justify their behavior by neutralizing (negating, altering) the rules governing that behavior. Deviants (all of us) have many techniques we use to negate the rules governing behavior.

13 Some Techniques of Neutralization
Denial of responsibility Denial of injury Denial of victim Condemnation of Condemner Appeal to Higher Loyalties Denial of the Law Appeal to social patterns

14 Labeling Theory Does not explain initial act of deviance
Claims that when a deviant label is applied to a person it can have adverse consequences-- increase in deviant activity (secondary deviation), negative view of self. Powerful are least likely to be labeled as deviant, powerless more likely. Labeling, and its consequences can occur in the absence of guilt.

15 Basic Premise of Labeling Theory
When someone is labeled (identified as deviant by an audience) it may lead to negative reactions from the audience. Negative reactions, when strong enough, prolonged enough may affect the emotional state of the alleged deviant and may intensify deviant activity of the alleged deviant. The labeled become the label. Labels are subjectively applied and individuals may be inappropriately labeled even in the absence of guilt. Who the person is may influence labeling as much as what they do.

16 Key Assumptions of Labeling Theory:
Acts are not inherently deviant/criminal People are not criminal/deviant until they are defined as such by authorities Labeling is a social process begins with the detection of some real or imagined deviant criminal act involves interaction between “nondeviant audience” and “deviant” actor

17 In the labeling process, characteristics of the offender are more important than characteristics of the act. Deviant Labeling can even occur without the occurrence of a deviant act Age, Race, Sex and Social Class are important factors influencing the outcomes of labeling.

18 Important Points to Remember
Labels may be applied in the absence of guilt. Labels have consequences for those who are labeled. Labels may not always be fairly applied. Labels are often based on inadequate information. Observable characteristics (sex, race, age) are often the basis of a label. Power determines labels.

19 Conflict Theories Deviant behavior is a product of miserable life conditions caused by social inequality. The powerful create the rules in society and use them to protect their interests, while harming the interests of others. Attention is focused on powerless deviants and away from powerful deviants. The “deviant” in society are those who disagree with the agenda/values/culture of those in power.

20 Background Information
Not a single theory but a set of theories and ideas Also referred to as conflict criminology and radical criminology Based to a large extent on sociological conflict theory. Attempts to explain how the law may be used as a tool by the powerful in society. It is an alternative, often dismissed, way of viewing crime and deviance.

21 Central Assumptions: There is not a single class of criminals. Violation of law occurs across all social classes. Powerless classes are most likely to be defined as criminals or deviants. Justice is not equally applied to all social classes. Powerless groups likely to feel the “brunt of injustice.”

22 Powerful make the rules and enforce the rules, therefore are in a position to break the rules without being detected, labeled or punished. Inequalities within social system create miserable conditions conducive to criminal activity. Crime is a byproduct of power struggles that exist in society.

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