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Strain Theory

Strain Theory

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Strain Theory

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  1. Strain Theory

  2. Source: US Census, 2000

  3. Strain Theory is aboutDeviant Motivation • Assumption #1: We are all naturally law-abiding, if given the chance • Assumption #2: We break rules when we experience strain • Assumption #3: Strain originates in our social experience

  4. What do you do when bad things happen? • A parent abuses you physically • You fail a test you studied for • Your partner dumps you • Your dad dies suddenly • Your parents get a divorce • You become a crime victim

  5. Agnew’s (1992) Strain Theory Blocked Goals Negative Emotions (mostly anger, but also anxiety and depression) Corrective Actions

  6. The American Dream • Culturally valued goals • Money, status, material objects • Legitimate means • Hard work, perseverance

  7. Merton’s (1938) Strain Theory:A Critique of U.S. Society • Critique #1: Our culture’s requirement that people achieve success (i.e., wealth) is stronger than its requirement that they play by the rules to attain it • Critique #2: There is a mismatch between our culture’s universal success goals (wealth) and people’s differential access to the legitimate means to achieving those goals

  8. Merton’s Adaptations to Strain

  9. Albert Cohen: Strain Theory and Delinquent Subculture • Strain: Lower class youth fail to achieve middle class standards ( “middle class measuring rod”) -> strain (status frustration) • Reduce strain by creating an alternative status system - a group solution to the problem of strain • Oppositional subculture: • Middle class values upside down • Explains non-utilitarian deviance (e.g., vandalism)

  10. Strain & “Anomie” in Society • Disjuncture between socially valued goals and legitimate means for achieving those goals • Anomie = a state of “normlessness” in society • Rules inspire less commitment • We don’t trust that others will follow rules

  11. Overview of Strain Theories • Agnew’s Strain Theory • Blocked goals->negative emotion->corrective action • Merton’s Strain Theory • Success is valued more than playing by the rules • Differential access to legitimate means • Cohen’s Strain Theory • Oppositional/delinquent adaptation to status frustration

  12. Policy Implicationsof Strain Theory • Equalize opportunities for success • De-emphasize material success goals • Re-emphasize playing by the rules