Understanding the manifestations of deviant behavior in individuals had become the focus of attention of great sociological thinkers such as Emile Durkheim, Robert Merton and Robert Agnew. Their innovative theories changed the way people viewed deviant behavior. Durkheim’s anomie theory stated that a breakdown of norms resulted in people straying away from appropriate behavior that society upholds (Joe). Breakdown of norms, which led to deviant acts, were caused by changes in political, economic and social conditions in a given society (Brown).
While Merton’s strain theory, which branched off from Durkheim’s anomie theory, added that the goals imposed by society was not easily achieved by everyone. Hence, this apparent discrepancy caused people to become deviant (Collins). Also, there were several ways to express deviant behavior which consists of innovators, retreatists and rebels as well as an objective and subjective stance regarding deviance. On the other hand, Agnew’s General Strain Theory, which further elaborated Merton’s strain theory, discussed the affect of negative relationships and experiences that leads to deviant behavior (Wallace, Patchin, and May).
The concept of anomie was first introduced by Durkheim when he wrote the book The Division of Labour in Society in 1893 (Durkheim’s Anomie). The book was written at a time wherein French society was becoming industrialized. People felt detached and helpless because the standard rules of behavior and means for achieving it as well as expectations that went along with it was suddently altered, resulting in anomie. Thus, “[i]n this [new, kind of] society, people are no longer tied to one another and social bonds are impersonal” (Durkheim’s Anomie).
Furthermore, this tranformation created “new social groups like the entrepreneurs, the managers and the clerks and, last but not least, the massive working class. The existing political structure had to integrate these new groups into the political system” (Brown). Hence, the sudden remodification of the existing system brought about confusion as to how things now operate. Anomie, which is a “ state where norms (expectations on behaviours) are confused, unclear or not present”, might materialize into deviant behavior (Durkheim’s Anomie). In effect, deviant behavior was simply the way people dealt with unexpected changes within society.
In addition, deviant behavior was further explained by Merton with his strain theory, which was essentially a “situation in which there is an apparent lack of fit between the culture’s norms about what constitutes success in life (goals) and the culture’s norms about the appropriate ways to achieve those goals (means)” (Robert Merton: Anomie Theory). He also specified that deviant behavior was expressed when “pressure on disadvantaged minority groups and the lower urban populous… take advantage of any effective available means to income and success that they can find even if these means are illegal” (Collins).
In short, society has clear-cut ideals on specific goals but there was no definite means to achieve it in real life. Also, the means to accomplish desired goals were not available to everyone because only a select few can attend prestigious schools which would lead to high-paying jobs. Hence, marginalized groups in society still aspired and held on to the same societal goals but realized that the conventional method of attaining them was out of their reach. Therefore, they turned to illegal means to obtain societal and personal goals in life.
Even though numerous ways to get around the system could be done in order to obtain societal and personal goals, no consensus about it exists. Some people- known as innovators-completely reject the standard ways of achieving desired goals. Instead they would turn to delinquent roles as a way to get around the established system of things (Orcutt). Thus, “innovation is particularly characteristic of the lower class—the location in the class structure of American society where access to legitimate means is especially limited and the ‘strain toward anomie’ is most severe…. ” (Orcutt).
While other people would “escape from the pressures and demands of organized society” by being retreatists (Orcutt). These people reflect the “psychotics, autists, pariahs, outcasts, vagrants, vagabonds, tramps, chronic drunkards, and drug addicts” in our society (Orcutt). Thus, instead of facing the challenges that life puts in their way, they just decide to ignore whatever was going on around them. Retreating is used as an escape mechanism so that their existence could not be guided by society. They remain outside its influences- free of norms, expectations and goals- which would enable them to engage in activities that pleases them.
In essence, these people retreat as a way of reacting to strains caused by society; thereby“’manag[ing] the negative affect’” of strain in this manner (O’Connor). On the other hand, rebels reject the “goals and means… [dictated by] society [by] actively attempt[ing] to substitute new goals and means in their place” (Orcutt). The reason rebels react this way is they have a different set of ideals that they would like to establish instead. Also, they are aware of the flaws that exists within the present system. Thus, rebels represent a small group of people who becomes utterly dissatisfied with the current system in place.
Rebels that are actively seeking desired goals and change in society might demand an alternate way to enact things. They could go to various lengths to attain this. By protesting in rallies or campaigns against the government, they are making their sentiments publicly known. Moreover, objective stance on deviance, which are the “events and conditions that are disliked by most people in a given group,” illustrates that certain deviant behavior considered by a majority of people does not necessarily mean that individuals deem it to be so (Froggio and Agnew).
With this outlook in mind, the subjective stance on the issue of deviance- which is simply the “events and conditions that are disliked by the people who have experienced them”- is actually a more informed reflection of crime (Froggio and Agnew). This is because the subjective stance regarding deviance is “more likely to generate the negative emotions that lead to crime” since it affects deviant behavior in a more personal level (Froggio and Agnew). At the same time, negative means of achieving something could also be attributed to negative relationships a person has experienced with others at a very young age.
Agnew’s General Strain Theory indicated that there were “ three types of negative relationships, which may lead to delinquency. The first type occurs when individuals prohibit someone from achieving positively valued goals. Second, strain can occur when people threaten to, or actually remove, positively valued stimuli from another. The final type of strain occurs when individuals introduce negative stimuli. Each of these sources of strain increases the probability that individuals will experience negative emotions, which include anxiety, disappointment, depression, fear, frustration, and most importantly anger.
Anger increases the feelings of being wronged or betrayed and produces a desire for revenge, promotes action, and lowers inhibitions” (Wallace, Patchin and May). Positive valued goals include one’s expectation and view of the outcome, which are usually favorable (O’Connor). It is when there is a gap “ between expectations and actual achievements, and the difference between the view of what a person believes the outcome should be and what actually results” that deviant behavior might occur (O’Connor).
Likewise, desired goals might not come into fruition because personal “individual weaknesses and blocked opportunities” could prevent a person from attaining what he wants (O’Connor). While tragic events in one’s life like the death of a family member or serious illness could lead to deviant behavior (O’Connor). Similarly, ever present negative circumstances such as abuse or peer pressure could effect in deviant behavior (O’Connor). Thefore, “[g]eneral strain theory suggests that delinquent behavior enables adolescents to cope with socio-emotional problems generated by negative social relations” (Even More Criminal Theory, 2000).
However, deviant behavior cannot be limited to these occurrences. Agnew acknowledged that “not all strain [which are the negative events mentioned] will lead to crime; only those which ‘are seen as unjust, are seen as high in magnitude, are associated with low social control, and create some pressure or incentive to engage in criminal coping’ ” (Wallace, Patchin and May). Hence, the theories provided explains deviant behaviors but they should not be seen as the sole and actual causes of deviant behavior.
In general, deviant behavior in the social level is, more often than not, a response against the established norms of society. It is highly possible for social aspects—which includes peer pressure and abuse— of strain theory to be the reason why people engage in deviant behavior. Conversely, the political and economic aspects of deviance and its effects to other factors must also be studied, and their correlations must be established. In addition, analysing society in the holistic perspective must be done with precaution.
Deviance, in addition to it being a retaliation or reaction towards existing social norms, is also phenomenon existing in all societies, regardless of whatever system is established. In society, holistic interpretations are usually inaccurate descriptions of conditions, since society and people are complex and dynamic. The lower classes of society do not directly experience and even benefit from the changes that happen in the political and economic level. Lastly, deviance in society, more often than not, can be attributed to many factors that still needs to be addressed.
References Brown, B. Revolution and Anomie. Retrieved January 24, 2008, from http://cremesti. com/portfolio/technical_writing/Academic_Research_Papers/Revolution_and_Anomie. htm Joe, L. (1999). Anomie. Retrieved January 24, 2008, from http://durkheim. itgo. com/anomie. html (n. d). Durkheim’s Anomie. Sociologiy at Hewett. Retrieved January 24, 2008, from http://www. hewett. norfolk. sch. uk/curric/soc/crime/anomie. htm Wallace, L. H. , Patchin J. W. , and May, J. D. (2005). Reactions of Victimized Youth: Strain as an Explanation of School Delinquency.
Western Criminology Review. Retrieved January 22, 2008, from http://wcr. sonoma. edu/v6n1/wallace. htm (n. d). Robert Merton: Anomie Theory. Retrieved January 24 , 2008, from http://www. d. umn. edu/~bmork/2306/Theories/BAManomie. htm Collins, K. M. Anomie and Strain Theory. International Encyclopedia of Justice Studies. Retrieved January 21, 2008, from http://www. iejs. com/Criminology/anomie_and_strain_theory. htm (2000). Even More Criminal Theory. Retrieved January 22, 2008, from http://www. tkdtutor.
com/06Concepts/Psychology/Criminal%20Mind/3Mind/3Mind02. htm O’Connor, T. (2007). Strain Theories of Crime. Megalinks in Criminal Justice. Retrieved January 22, 2008, from http://www. apsu. edu/oconnort/crim/crimtheory11. htm Orcutt, J. D. (2002). The Anomie Tradition. Retrieved January 24, 2008, from http://deviance. socprobs. net/Unit_3/Theory/Anomie. htm Froggio, G. , and Agnew, R. The relationship between crime and “objective versus “subjective” strains. Journal of Criminal Justice, 35, 81-87. Retrieved January 22, 2008 from ProQuest Database.