Exam II Book Notes

Exam II Book Notes - STRAIN THEORIES Robert K Merton and...

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STRAIN THEORIES Robert K. Merton and Anomie in American Society Durkheim had analyzed anomie as breakdown in the ability of society to regulate the natural appetites of individuals. Merton, in an article first published in 1938, argued out that many of the appetites of individuals are not “natural”, but rather originate in the “culture” of American society. At the same time, the “social structure” of American society limits the ability of certain groups to satisfy those appetites. Merton began by pointing out that the culture of any society defines certain goals it deems “worth striving for.” Perhaps the most prominent culture goal in American society is to acquire wealth. Merton argued that American culture specifically encourages all individuals to seek the greatest amount of wealth. Although all individuals are not expected to achieve this goal, all are expected to try. Those who do not may be unfavorably characterized as “lazy” or “unambitious”. In American culture the institutionalized means that should be used to achieve wealth can generally be identified as “middle-class values” or “the Protestant work ethic.” They include hard work, honesty, education, and deferred gratification. The person who adheres to these methods receives little social reward for it unless he/she also achieves at least a moderate degree of wealth as a result. But the person who achieves wealth, even if it is not by the approved means, still receives the social rewards of prestige and social status. Places a severe strain on the institutionalized means. The strain falls on a wide variety of people in the society, but it tends to be more concentrated among persons in the lower class. For certain groups, then, a severe strain on the cultural values arises because (1) the culture places disproportionate emphasis on the achievement of the goal of accumulated wealth and maintains that this goal is applicable to all persons, and (2) the social structure effectively limits the possibilities of individuals within these groups to achieve this goal through the use of institutionalized means. Cultural argument: explain the high rate of crime in American society as a whole
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Structural argument: explain the concentration of crime in the lower classes Cultural imbalance : the imbalance between the strong cultural forces that valued the goal of monetary success and the much weaker cultural forces that valued the institutional means of hard work, honesty, and education. Cultural imbalance does not explain why the lower classes in American have higher crime rates than the upper classes. Merton used social structure not culture to explain this. There are various ways in which an individual can respond to this problem of anomie
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This note was uploaded on 03/30/2008 for the course SOCI 304 taught by Professor Foster during the Spring '08 term at Texas A&M.

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Exam II Book Notes - STRAIN THEORIES Robert K Merton and...

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