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Anomie/Strain Theories of Crime

Anomie/Strain Theories of Crime

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Anomie/Strain Theories of Crime

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  1. Anomie/Strain Theories of Crime

  2. Anomie and Strain Theories • Challenge biologically based theories • Argue internal drives and motives are not implicated in crime • Rather, the motivation for crime is derived from society • Societal forces pressure people to commit crime • Certain phases of the social structure generate circumstances in which violation of the law constitutes a “normal” response • Social structures exert a definite pressure upon people to engage in crime

  3. Anomie Theories • Anomie and strain theories are distinct, but related, theories • Anomie theories have a macro-level focus while strain theories have a micro-level focus • Anomie theories explain why some societies have higher rates of crime than others • Strain theories explain why some individuals commit more crime than others

  4. Anomie Theories • Merton’s (1938) anomie theory • Argues the U.S. places a relatively strong emphasis on the goal of monetary success, but a weak emphasis on the legitimate norms (e.g., education, hard work) for achieving this goal • The goal-seeking behavior of individuals is subject to less regulation • Societies with little regulation are characterized by a sense of “anomie” or normlessness • Free to pursue monetary success using whatever means necessary, including crime

  5. Merton: “Social Structure and Anomie”(Anomie Theory) • Most widely read article in sociology • Presents both an anomie theory and a strain theory • Anomie theory focuses on why the U.S. has higher rates of crimes than others • Focuses on the relative emphasis placed on cultural goals and institutionalized norms for achieving these goals

  6. Merton: “Social Structure and Anomie”(Anomie Theory) • Implicates the cultural and social structures in the explanation of crime • The cultural structure consists of the goals and norms • Goals: what people are supposed to achieve • Involves varying degrees of prestige and sentiment • In the U.S., monetary success is a major goal • Norms: how people are to achieve the goals • The social structure provides people with the actual means to achieve the cultural goals • In the U.S., everyone does not have the same access to legitimate means

  7. Merton: “Social Structure and Anomie”(Anomie Theory) • Emphasis on these two elements, the cultural goals and institutional norms, vary independently • Excessive emphasis on the goals with little concern for the norms • This gap puts a strain on the norms, and anomie ensues • People then are free to use any means necessary to achieve the goals, including criminal behavior • Merton focused on this disjuncture • Excessive emphasis on the norms with little concern for the goals • People ritualistically adhere to the norms to the point where the behavior could be obsessive • Stability is maintained and change is flouted

  8. Merton: “Social Structure and Anomie”(Anomie Theory) • Societies that have a similar emphasis on the goals and norms are integrated and relatively stable, but still allow change • Successful equilibrium is maintained between the goals and the norms when satisfactions accrue to the individual from both the achievement of the goals and the process from which it was achieved

  9. Merton: “Social Structure and Anomie”(Anomie Theory) • In the U.S., there is an excessive emphasis on the cultural goal of monetary success for all while there is little emphasis on the institutional norms • The goals transcend class lines and are held by everyone in society • This excessive focus on the goals generates literal demoralization or a deinstitutionalization of the institutional means to achieve a goal, which leads to anomie • Anomie—sense of normlessness • Norms lose their power to control people’s behavior • The emphasis on the culturally induced success goal becomes divorced from the coordinated institutional norms emphasis • Fraud, corruption, robbery, etc., become common • The “end-justifies-the-means” doctrine is the guiding tenet

  10. Merton: “Social Structure and Anomie”(Anomie Theory) • The lack of high integration between the means-and-end elements of the cultural pattern and the particular class structure combine to favor a heightened frequency of antisocial conduct in society • Also, legitimate means (e.g., formal education, economic resources) to achieve valued goals are often limited to certain groups • There exist class differences in the accessibility of the means needed to reach these goals • Thus use any means necessary (including illegitimate means) to obtain the monetary success goal

  11. Merton: “Social Structure and Anomie”(Anomie Theory) • This theory can help explain the correlations between poverty and crime • When poverty is combined with limited opportunities and a commonly shared system of success symbols, there is an association between poverty and crime • This is the case in the U.S. • Do not see an association between poverty and crime where there is a rigidified class structure coupled with differential class symbols of achievement

  12. Merton’s Anomie Theory to Messner and Rosenfeld’s Institutional-Anomie Theory (IAT) • Merton’s anomie theory was largely ignored until the 1980s • Rather his strain theory was more popular • Messner and Rosenfeld drew heavily on Merton when developing institutional-anomie theory • Attempt to explain why the U.S. has such high crime rates • Argue the “American Dream”—the emphasis on the unrestrained pursuit of monetary success by everyone—plays an important role

  13. Messner and Rosenfeld’s IAT • Argue the cultural emphasis on money is paralleled by an institutional structure that is dominated by the economy • Other institutions (e.g., school, family, politics) are subservient to the economy • Noneconomic goals are devalued • Noneconomic institutions must accommodate the economy • Economic norms have permeated other institutions

  14. Rosenfeld and Messner: Crime and the American Dream • Levels of crime in the U.S. are very high compared to other nations • High rates of crime are not due to biological or moral failings • Rather, high crime rates are due to the “American Dream” • Based off Merton’s theory, but extend in two ways • Restore the macro-level intent of Merton’s anomie theory • Extend anomie theory by considering connections between core elements of the American Dream and other social institutions

  15. Rosenfeld and Messner: Crime and the American Dream • The American Dream has been highly functional in that it encourages high levels of ambition, but it also can exert a pressure for crime • Anomic tendencies inherent in the American Dream both produce and are reproduced by an institutional balance of power dominated by the economy

  16. Rosenfeld and Messner: Crime and the American Dream • The anomic tendencies of the American Dream derive from four value commitments: • Achievement orientation • Personal worth is evaluated on what people achieve • Success is the ultimate measure of social worth • Leads to pressure to achieve at any cost • Individualism • Encouraged to make it own your own • Others are seen as competition

  17. Rosenfeld and Messner: Crime and the American Dream • The anomic tendencies of the American Dream derive from four value commitments: • Universalism • Everyone is encouraged to aspire to social ascent • No one is exempt from the pursuit of success • Monetary rewards • A distinctive feature of American culture is the preeminent role of money as the “metric” of success • A “currency” for measuring achievement • Open-ended so there is no stopping point, which leads to never-ending achievement

  18. Rosenfeld and Messner: Crime and the American Dream • These four value commitments encourage members of society to pursue ends limited only by expediency considerations

  19. Rosenfeld and Messner: Crime and the American Dream • IAT also examines the role of social institutions in society • Social institutions are the building blocks of society • Relatively stable sets of norms and values, statuses and roles, and groups and organizations that regulate human conduct to meet the basic needs of society

  20. Rosenfeld and Messner: Crime and the American Dream • The main social institutions include: • Economy: organize the production and distribution of goods and services • Polity: mobilize and distribute power to obtain collective goals • Family: maintenance and replacement of members in society • Education: transmit basic cultural standards to new generations and prepare youth for the demand of adult occupational roles

  21. Rosenfeld and Messner: Crime and the American Dream • Functions of the different social institutions are overlapping and interdependent • Thus, some coordination and cooperation among the institutions is required for societies to “work” • However, this can also lead to conflict between the institutions • In any given society, there is an institutional balance of power • A distinctive arrangement of social institutions that reflect a balancing of the different institutional claims and requisites

  22. Rosenfeld and Messner: Crime and the American Dream • The core elements of the American Dream have their institutional underpinnings in the economy • The most important feature of the U.S. economy is its capitalist nature (e.g., private ownership, free markets) • Private owners of property are profit-motivated, and workers are willing to exchange labor for wages • The motivation underlying this is financial returns • Capitalist economies are also highly competitive • Cultivates a competitive, innovative spirit

  23. Rosenfeld and Messner: Crime and the American Dream • What is distinctive about the U.S. is the exaggerated emphasis on monetary success and unrestrained receptivity to innovation • Monetary success overwhelms all other goals and is the principal measuring rod of success • Other institutions are unable to tame economic imperatives

  24. Rosenfeld and Messner: Crime and the American Dream • Capitalism in the U.S. developed without institutional restraints • Thus, the economy assumed an unusual dominance in the balance of power • This has continued and is manifested in three ways: • Devaluation of noneconomic functions and roles • Accommodation to economic requirements by other institutions • Penetration of economic norms into other institutional domains

  25. Rosenfeld and Messner: Crime and the American Dream • Devaluation of noneconomic institutional functions and roles • Education • Seen as a means to occupational attainment in the economic system • Acquisition of knowledge/learning is not valued • Being a good student/teacher is not prestigious • Family • Homeowner, not homemaker, has prestige • Stay-at-home moms/dads have inferior status • Polity • Little social honor on the politician • If refuse to vote, mild disapproval; if refuse to work, socially degraded • Purpose of the government tends to be conceptualized in terms of its capacity to facilitate the individual pursuit of economic prosperity

  26. Rosenfeld and Messner: Crime and the American Dream • Accommodation of other institutions to the economy • Family • Routines are dominated by schedules, rewards, and penalties of labor markets • Employers resist family leave time • There is a necessity of paid employment to support the family • Education • The timing of school reflects occupational demands rather than features of the learning process • People go to school to prepare for “good” jobs • Return to school to upgrade skills • Polity • Must take care to cultivate and maintain an environment hospitable to investment or risk being “downgraded” by financial markets

  27. Rosenfeld and Messner: Crime and the American Dream • Penetration of economic norms into other institutional areas • Education • Rely on grading system as extrinsic rewards, like wages, to insure compliance with goals • Individual competition for external rewards • Teaching oriented toward testing • Polity • A “bottom-line” mentality develops • Belief government would work better if it were run like a business • Family • Language of the household: husbands and wives are partners who manage the household • Huge movement of women into the workforce

  28. Rosenfeld and Messner: Crime and the American Dream • Thus, the American Dream contributes to high levels of crime in two important ways: • Direct: through the creation of an anomic normative order (an environment in which social norms are unable to exert a strong regulatory force on members of society) • Indirect: contributes to an institutional balance of power that inhibits the development of strong mechanisms of external social control

  29. Empirical Support for IAT • Most studies have suggested that crime rates are lower in societies and areas that are not dominated by the economy • Crime rates are lower in areas with stronger families, schools, religion, and political institutions • More difficult to test the prediction that crime is higher in the U.S. due to the emphasis on the pursuit of money • One study showed that people in the U.S. do not place a relatively strong emphasis on money • However, a 2007 study found crime is higher in areas in the U.S. where people express a high commitment to monetary success and a low commitment to the legitimate means for achieving success

  30. Classic Strain Theory • Focuses on the micro level • Explains why individuals and groups within a society are more likely to engage in crime • Argues individuals are pressured into crime when prevented from achieving cultural goals through legitimate channels • In the U.S., everyone is encouraged to pursue monetary success, but some are prevented from achieving that success through legitimate means • Some people may respond by engaging in crime (most conform) • Also presented in Merton’s (1938) “Social Structure and Anomie”

  31. Merton: “Social Structure and Anomie”(Strain Theory) • The gap between the cultural goals and the institutionalized means puts strain on individuals • Individuals can adapt in five ways: • Conformity • Innovation • Ritualism • Retreatism • Rebellion • People can shift from one adaptation to another as they engage in different social activities

  32. Merton: “Social Structure and Anomie”(Strain Theory) • Conformity • In all societies, conformity to both the goals and the means is the most common adaptation • This is why stability and continuity of a society is maintained • Conventional role behavior is the rule, not the exception

  33. Merton: “Social Structure and Anomie”(Strain Theory) • Innovation • Occurs when people still value the cultural goals but reject the institutionalized means • Thus, individuals are free to obtain the goals by the most efficient means necessary, which can often be crime (e.g., stealing, prostitution, drug dealing) • Often occurs in areas where there is limited opportunity

  34. Merton: “Social Structure and Anomie”(Strain Theory) • Ritualism • Occurs when people reject the cultural goals but still value the institutionalized means • Gain pleasure from practicing traditional ceremonies • Low expectations regarding the goals • Individual just goes through the motions

  35. Merton: “Social Structure and Anomie”(Strain Theory) • Retreatism • Occurs when people reject both the cultural goals and the institutionalized means • Least common of the adaptations • These people are in society, but not of it • Can include the activities of psychotics, psychoneurotics, tramps, vagrants, drug addicts, and alcoholics • Have sense of defeatism/resignation manifested in escape mechanisms

  36. Merton: “Social Structure and Anomie”(Strain Theory) • Rebellion • Occurs when people reject both the cultural goals and the institutionalized means but substitute an alternative set of goals and means • Example: become a good fighter • Can include revolutionaries who seek radical change in the existing social structure • Often new goals and means are in direct contrast to the conventional goals and means of mainstream society

  37. Cohen’s Extension to Merton’s Classic Strain Theory • Albert K. Cohen was a student of both Sutherland and Merton • Argued that strained individuals are unlikely to engage in crime unless they first form or join a delinquent subculture whose values are conducive to crime

  38. Cohen: Delinquent Boys: The Culture of the Gang • Provides a general explanation for the origin of deviant subcultures and applies this theory to explain the origin and content of male, working-class urban gangs • Like Merton, he argues delinquency is caused by goal blockage • Unlike Merton, monetary success is not the only goal that is blocked • Middle-class status (respect from others and financial success) is also blocked

  39. Cohen: Delinquent Boys: The Culture of the Gang • Argues all human behavior, including delinquency, is based on the psychogenic assumption • Our behavior is an ongoing series of efforts to solve problems • Seek to solve problems and not create new ones • Select solutions from those established in our social groups

  40. Cohen: Delinquent Boys: The Culture of the Gang • In order for this culture to form that has a solution to a problem, there must be effective interaction with one another and a number of actors with similar problems of adjustment • Individuals in these groups come up with an innovative solution to solve these common problems

  41. Cohen: Delinquent Boys: The Culture of the Gang • In lower- and working-class areas, youths must solve the problem of not being able to obtain middle-class status • They experience status frustration • Can achieve financial success through crime; however, cannot achieve other aspects of middle-class status (e.g., respect) through crime • Thus, lower- and working-class boys adapt to their goal blockage by setting up an alternative status system in which they can achieve success • Value everything the middle-class rejects • Gain status within their subculture by being everything the middle class is not; however, they lose status with the middle class

  42. Cohen: Delinquent Boys: The Culture of the Gang • This explains higher rates of crime in the lower and working classes • Working-class boys are more likely than their middle-class peers to be at the bottom of the status hierarchy when they enter a middle-class world • To the degree they value middle-class standards, they face a problem of adjustment because they do not have the resources to gain that status • Thus, they are “in the market” for a solution to this status frustration and join delinquent subcultures that value crime and aggression

  43. Empirical Support for Classic Strain Theory • Dominated the field in the 1950s and 1960s with major impacts on public policy • One of the inspirations for the War on Poverty • Increase the opportunities of the poor to achieve success through legitimate means • Came under attack in the late 1960s and 1970s • Many studies failed to find support for the theory • Tested by examining the disjuncture between expectations and aspirations • Found crime highest among those with low expectations and aspirations—not supporting the theory • Self-report studies found delinquency not concentrated just in the lower class

  44. Empirical Support for Classic Strain Theory • Recently, researchers have argued there are better ways to measure strain than the disjuncture between aspirations and expectations • Using alternate and more direct measures, this research has found some support for classic strain theory

  45. Empirical Support for Classic Strain Theory • Recently, classic strain theory has been used to explain group differences in crime rates • Economic deprivation is found to be a huge predictor of community differences in crime rates; however, it is only weakly related to societal differences • All societies do not value economic success to the same extent • Economic inequality is a strong predictor of societal differences in crime rates • Especially if the inequality is due to discrimination

  46. Revisions to Classic Strain Theory • In response to the criticisms of classic strain (e.g., it cannot explain middle-class crime), several efforts have been made to revise the theory • One major revision is that strain is a function of relative deprivation • One’s level of strain is dependent on how much money one has relative to those in one’s reference group • Compare self to people around you • If do not match up, can feel strain

  47. Revisions to Classic Strain Theory • Another revision argues adolescents pursue a variety of goals in addition to middle-class status • These include: popularity with peers and romantic partners, athletic success, positive relations with parents, teachers, and others, good grades, etc. • Thus, middle-class youth experience strain quite frequently (not just lower-class youth) • Not tested adequately, but preliminary research is not promising

  48. Agnew’s General Strain Theory (GST) • Robert Agnew significantly broadened the focus of strain theory • Argued there are multiple sources of strain • Merton focused on the goal blockage of monetary success or positively valued goals through legitimate means • Agnew presented more strains, distinguished between objective and subjective strains and experienced, vicarious, and anticipated strains • Discussed which strains are most likely to lead to crime and why

  49. Agnew: Pressured Into Crime: General Strain Theory • People engage in crime because they experience strains or stressors • Crime is a type of corrective action people can use to cope with, reduce, or escape their strains and negative emotions (e.g., anger and frustration) associated with the strain • Crime is not the only way to cope • Crime is more likely when the individual lacks the ability to cope in a legal manner • Do not have the verbal skills to negotiate, the costs of crime are low, etc.

  50. Agnew: Pressured Into Crime: General Strain Theory • Strains are events or conditions that are disliked by the individual • Strain results from negative relationships with others • There are three major types of negative relations, which include relations that: • Prevent or threaten to prevent the achievement of positively valued goals • Remove or threaten to remove the achievement of positively valued goals • Present or threaten to present negatively valued stimuli