influential theories related to deviance by Robert K. Merton. Firstly, the paper provides the historical context within which the theorist produced their ideas. Secondly, the paper provides a summary of their original theory. Thirdly, the paper provides a discussion of how the model has been critiqued and altered as new research has emerged. Lastly, the paper delves into the theory’s current usage/popularity within criminology.
The historical context within which the theorist produced their ideas
There is huge contribution of influential theories related to deviance by Robert K. Merton. As a matter of fact, He is considered one of the most significant sociologists of modern times. Moreover, he has also made large number of contributions to the criminology field. Undoubtedly, Merton influenced various fields of science, humanities, law, political theories, economics and anthropology (Cole, 2004, p.37). Merton’s introduced numerous concepts like anomie, deviant behavior, self-fulfilling prophecy, strain, middle range theory and focused group behavior. He is recognized mostly because of the introduction of these concepts.
Merton’s inspiration was his own childhood. He was born on 5th July, 1910 in South Philadelphia’s slums. He was a child of Jewish immigrants. His father ran a dairy shop which was located near their place. Merton didn’t open his eyes in a wealth family; however he was well aware of the cultural riches in his surroundings. These riches included Philadelphia Orchestra at the Academy of Music, low-priced seats for Leopold Stokowski as well as Carnegie Library (Bivens, 2004). His Birth name had been Meyer R. Scholnick. He changed his name at the age of fourteen while performing some magic tricks at parties (Gieryn 2004, p. 90). His intelligence made him acquire a scholarship to Temple University and this paved his way out from the environment he was living in. During his studies, he worked as research assistant to Geroge Simpson, who initially introduced him to sociology. He was also introduced to influential personalities like Ralph Bunch and Franklin Frazier. Significantly, Simpson also introduced him the Pitirim Sorokin: founding chairman of Harvard University’s sociology department. After completing his under graduation degree, he acquired fellowship to start Harvard University for graduation. Soon after it, Sorokin hired him to assist him in his research endeavors and by Merton’s second year, they both were publishing together. Merton’s most of the time at Harvard was spent in reading but he also gained influence from thinkers such as Sarton, Pitirim, Sorokin, George, L.J Henderson and Talcott Parsons. During his time in Harvard, he studied a course from Talcott Parsons. His inspirations from Parsons and ideas came up with a work “The Structure of Social Action.” His interactions with Parson deepened his sociology thoughts (Calhoun 2003).
Merton’s essays initially written and published during The Great depression include Social Structure and Anomie (1938). These initial writings clearly reflect the influence of distress in Merton’s mind. During this time, Merton realized the power imbalance and means of acquiring success. The Great depression made economy poor and many people had been unemployed. The land of opportunity turned into the land of depression when people lost their homes and settled in shelter home Hoovervilles (Cole and Smith, 2002). However, this period did not influence many wealthy individuals. 40% of the population remained unaffected (Bernanke 1995 p.119). Merton formed together his hypothesis of anomie during this phase of depression and imbalance of power. There were many changes through which a county was going during that time which include The Great Depression and huge number of immigrant incursions (Bivens, 2004).
These difficult times made Merton realize that only a certain group of people can achieve an American Dream. He also acknowledged the unequal distribution of wealth among immigrants, same as he witnessed in his childhood. Merton understood the fact that American Dream is not acquirable for every individual. This realization came out in the form of his famous essay Social Structure and Anatomy (1938). This essay was considered as a masterpiece in many relevant fields including criminology. There was a production of one of the most influential theory in criminology field when Merton decided to extend his theory of anomic after reading Emile Durkheim’s Theory of Anomie.
Part II- A summary of their original theory
In the sphere of criminology, Merton’s contributions are well-known. His theories mostly focus on deviant culture. Some of his great theories comprise of Social Theory along with Social Structure (New York: Free Press, 1968), On Social Structure and Science (University of Chicago, 1966), and the most famous as well as widely cited article in sociology “Social Structure and Anomie” (Irvington, 1938). Merton is well-known for defining strain, manifest, self-fulfilling prophecy, deviant, anomie and theory of reference group. Criminology employed all of these definitions.
In his famous cited essay, he started the writing by challenging some popular biologically based theories of that time. While those theories said that biological traits are the cause for crimes, Merton argued contrarily and forced that societal conditions are responsible for crimes. This theory and anomie perspective was extended after Merton witnessed the crisis in America in mid-twentieth century (Pfohl, 1994, p. 261). Merton witnessed two sides of the society. One side where the people were productive and not affected by the crisis, while at other side there was frustration and unequal access of acquiring societal goals. Anomie was defined as a feeling of isolation linking with deviant behavior of suicide by Durkheim. However, Merton extended this theory by coming up with similar explanation for deviant behavior. His arguments for anomie were not acknowledged till 1980s but there was more attention given to his strain theory. Eventually his theory of crime drew attention of many theorists like Cloward, Miller, Hirshi and Cohen.
His strain theory initiates with an observation that wealth is widespread American dream but society does not provide every one with opportunity to achieve this goal. However, one can achieve success through hard work and education. Education through illegal ways would be against the social norms. Merton argues on the fact that since the time society is stable, there is wide adaptation of conformity. This conformity to the social goals is caused by socialization of individuals towards the goals of the society. Individual is said to be conformist if he adhere on the society’s culturally prescribed goal and socially legitimate means for acquiring those goals (Pfohl, 1994, p. 263).
There is a category of people according to Merton which include tamps, drug addicts, chronic autism sufferers, pariahs, drunkards, vagabonds and vagrants. These individual adapt the least common attribute of society known as “retreatism” through which they go against all the social norms and goals. They are deviated because of their lacking desires and unconventional way of life (as cited in Calhoun, 2013).
Adaptation II of Merton’s theory about innovation includes the irrelevant ways of acquiring success and achieving goals. Drug dealers, corporate crimes and falsifying IRs forms falls in the category of such innovators who are deviated and seek for unconventional ways of achieving their target. The deviators accept cultural goals but seek for illegitimate ways of acquiring those goals. This is resulted when there is more focus on success rather than on way to achieve it (as cited in Calhoun, 2013).
Adaptation III of Merton’s theory about ritualism is about those individuals who abandon cultural goals despite of recognizing cultural norms. Social standing which have less opportunity to achieve goals adapts ritualism and they also fear achieving those goals through innovation. Such people are known as deviant for abandoning goals yet they are considered good citizens for not breaking the norms (as cited in Calhoun, 2013).
Adaptation V of Merton’s theory about rebellion talks about that group of people who adapt retreatism and abandon both: cultural goals and means. These deviants are known as rebels. Since such people are in favor of counter culture, they tend to support drastic norms, goals and means which are totally indifferent from cultural norms and means. They do this act through political revolution or by introducing unconventional religious groups (as cited in Calhoun, 2013).
In Colombia University, when Merton was working with Paul Lazarsfeld, they both inspired each other and many other. They both made a great working pair and they both worked flawlessly with Meton’s theory and Lazarsfeld’ logical concepts. They stated a theory about impact of mass media and their propaganda. In their essay, “Mass communication. Popular taste, and Organized Social Action,” they expressed their concern about influential interest groups’ use of mass media in order to get the control of society. He was the first social scientist to exploit incompetence of bureaucracies. His theories were introduced to explain that unequal distribution of wealth, power as well as social rewards lead to stratification of social classes. And Merton believed that delinquency in society was caused due to this inequality (as cited in Calhoun, 2013).
Merton’s essay Manifest and Latent function differentiate the difference amid manifest and latent functions. Manifest functions are those consequences of society which are acknowledged and implied by people within the society. Contrarily, latent functions remain unintended and unrecognized on large scale. Propagation of automobiles has manifest functions like status symbol and transportation. Latent function would be emphasizing personal autonomy by minimizing public transport. These functions of Merton proved that some crimes are intended while some are not. There could be numerous aspects for crime functions. Manifest functions of crime offers employment in the form of lawyer, judge, police officers etc. It also defines confirmative behavior to follow for society. ON the other hand, latent function would be institutionalization of minorities into state authority. Merton proved that crime is a function (as cited in Calhoun, 2013).
Deviant behavior is knows as a social problem. Merton made so much effort to understand the reason of why individual commit crime. His book Social Theory and Social Structure which was published in 1957, He wrote about two theories of deviant behavior (as cited in Calhoun, 2013).
Disorganization is about faults in arrangement whereas deviance is compelling against the set cultural rules and norms. First theory of deviance is Nonconforming behavior in which a person challenges the legitimacy of social values and tries hard to change them. Second theory is Aberrant behavior in which a person knows about his violence against social norms. Such people find these violation practical and freedom of expressing the state of mind (Merton 1957 p. 352).
There is a major contribution of Robert K. Merton with his theories of deviance in the field of criminology. He developed various theories which include latent functions, manifest functions, anomie and mass media. Thus, it can be said that Merton contributed far more than other sociological theorists. He has experienced all the theories which he developed. His theories were of great benefit for the field of criminology and other related fields. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, some sociologist disregarded Merton’s theory of anomie and some theories by other due to lack of empirical validity. However this not so important slump in theory was soon proved to be wrong by Merton and others by devoted research and advancement on anomie and other theories. Merton revised this anomie theory numerous times in order to prove his theory right to leading criminologists (as cited in Calhoun, 2013).
Part III- how the model has been critiqued and altered as new research has emerged
Anomie theory by Merton gave other theorists a chance to come up with more theories in response to critiques of Merton’s theory. These critics were Travis Hirschi Who developed Bonding theory explaining conformity, Richard Cloward and Lyoyd Ohlin developed Differential opportunity explaining illegitimate opportunity, Richard Quinne ponders on the crimes of the suits and Walter B. Miller developed Focal concerns which explained about different value systems. These five theories were originally based on Merton’s theory but covering and considering areas and factors which were left out by Merton (as cited in Calhoun, 2013).
The first critique faced by Merton’s theory was about lacking explanation of conformity. Anomie theory highlights about causes which cause people to commit crime however it does explain why people opt to conform to society. In overall theory, Merton assumed that people commit crime because of the desire to achieve cultural goals and people make use of illegitimate means to achieve those goals if there is no opportunity given and resources available. The popularity of anomie theory in numerous fields caused other critics to make advancements in this theory in order to make it more eligible. Developed theories were formed to fit their particular critique. Travis Hirchi, A critic used Merton’s theory as a frame work to develop his own theory. He did not explain the reason for committing crime. However, he explained about the reasons for people conforming to society. He stated that weaker the group individual belong is, he tend to depend less on it. The more he depend on himself, he recognizes his own rule of conduct more appropriate (as cited in Calhoun, 2013).
Following Durkheim’s track, Hirschi highlighted the significance of an individual’s devotion to the group to keep the individual on track of normative behavior. Greater the attachment with groups and relative, lessen the chances of deviance. This extent of attachment influences the level of deviance. This has been the elementary assumption of Bonding theory. He initiated the concept about conformity which is the result of attachment or bond to four elements in conventional society. Weaker bonds enhance the possibility of deviance. Probability of individual’s involvement in delinquency can be explained through the strength of the bonds (as cited in Calhoun, 2013).
Other critique of Merton’s anomie model was that it lacks the explanation about availability of illegitimate resources. In some circumstances where there are alternative illegitimate options available to potential criminals. Merton’s theory does not take this point in consideration. Likewise, urban areas have been engulfed with drugs and crime and providing with illegitimate alternatives to criminals. Such environment offers more chances to get involved in drug underworld as compared to rural areas. According to Cloward and Ohlin, Merton’s theory of anomie assumes that conventional means have limited access which is distributed unevenly and some individual have more access to such means because of their social class as compared to others who belong to lower side of class structure (Cloward et. al. 1960).
Both critiques argue that since there are different degrees and variation in resources exploitations and availability, and some are given more opportunity to acquire values, knowledge and skills to avail upward mobility, there can be no deny to the suggestion that there are same variations in availability of alternative illegitimate resources (Cloward et. al. 1960).
Cloward and Ohlin’s differential Opportunity Theory is a blend of Anomie, Social Disorganization and differential Association theories. They also explained in their theory that legal opportunities are limited in economy, which also make illegitimate resources limited too. This theory explains that there is a competition between criminal jobs too through writing about three types of gangs. Criminal gangs focus on crimes which will help them make more money, conflict gang is focused more on gaining status through toughness while the retreatist gangs doesn’t not have skills of either the conflict gang or the criminal ones.
According to Merton’s theory, every society has the same cultural norms and goals thus sharing a common value system. This theory is based on assumption that indivisuals have similar goals and means. However there is a question about the reality of this assumption to make for society. Critics didn’t agree to this assumption and proposed that every social class have different set of values and different cultural systems. As per Merton’s real life experiences, cultural system tend to influence more to lower class society members. He also positions that juvenile disagreements are rooted within the denial of the value system belonging to the middle class along with value system of lower class. He argues such value system that breed delinquent acts and responses emerge from slums towards living. Miller, who studied lower classes in 1955, came up with conclusions and theory known as Lower-class Focal Concerns theory. According to him, every class has its individual subculture and used the term focal concerns rather than “values” in order to describe elements which have significance in sub-culture. He made identification of six focal concerns considered by lower class which include toughness, smartness, excitement, autonomy, fate and the concern over trouble. According to miller, the major component which motivates the delinquent behavior by the individuals of lower class includes a positive effort to acquire status, condition or skills valued within the person’s most important cultural milieu (Miller, 1958, p. 17).
Merton’s theory is founded on the assumption that if a person commits any crime, it is due to the lack of legitimate opportunities available. However there is no explanation about crimes of suits. This theory doesn’t explain anything about criminals who belong to upper class but do not access to legitimate opportunities, it is just limited to the crimes committed by people from lower class.
According to Quinney, those who own and control the ways of productions, the capitalist class and effort to secure the present order through several ways of dominations, specifically crime control by capitalist state and those who have no say in the productions and manufacturing means, specifically the working class can oppose the capitalist domination in multiple ways (Quinney, 1980 p. 7).
This means that many crimes are attempted by state and the bourgeoisie for the security of status quo, and the plagues commit crime in retaliation to the capitalists’ order of mistreatment and oppressions. Concluding that, Merton’s theory paved a way for many theories to come up. Some include control theory, bonding theory, Focal Control theory and Differential Opportunity theory. Critics which are mentioned below used the frame work of Mentor’s theory and some other unmentioned also used his theory and expanded their own concepts to get their theories eligible by critics. For instance, in 1959, Dubin extended Merton’s five typologies to fourteen. Talcot Parson was the first one to make variation in Anomie theory (Clinard, 1964, p. 23). Thus Merton’s theory was the basis for many criminological works.
Part IV- The theory’s current usage/popularity within criminology
In order to get the better understanding about influence of Merton’s theories, it might be appropriate to consider the levels of citations which credit his perspectives. Through a good number of writings, Merton had established a good reputation in the field of criminology. Various authors and publishers have cited his many articles and books. With the help of ASC (American Society of Criminology) along with SSCI (Social Sciences Citation Index), we can know about the rough estimation of articles which cited Merton’s work. Citations can also be recognized through the work of Eugene Garfield who is well-known for carrying out analysis about citations of many influential theorist, which includes Robert K. Merton.
According to an Estimate which is based on search of journals (Shea 2004), Merton’s writings had been referred to in more than 17,500 published articles when he died.
As estimated by American Sociological Review (2004), “Social Theory and Social Structure” has been cited over 4,000 times. “Social Structure and Anomie” has been cited over 520 times. Merton’s essay “Focused interview” has been cited 300 times, while his Self- Fulfilling Prophecy is cited 350 times. Such Great number reveals the powerful influence of Merton’s writing on many scholars.
In line with the American Society of Criminology (ASC), Merton inspired many scholars to add and make comment on his writings and publications. “Social Structure and Anomie” has been cited in abstracts. Strain theory is cited in 3 abstracts. Every talk about causes of delinquency mentions the name of Robert K. Merton. Merton’s influence is spread worldwide and also plays as a role model in various aspects of criminology (as cited in Calhoun, 2013).
According to Social Sciences Citation Index as cited in Calhoun, 2013), there are numerous citations of Merton. His “Social theory and Social structure” is cited over 1200 times while Anomie’s perspective is cited over 80 times. His essay “Social Structure and Anomies is cited for most of the times till yet (Dubin, 1959). In reference to Garfield’s work in 1983, Merton’s writings were cited in 2,541 articles during the time of 1970 to 1977.
Furthermore, there had been 925 articles that cited Merton’s writings in the field of Sociology and Demography, having nearly forty percent of his citations. Merton’s impact on the disciplines of sociology and criminology is extraordinarily solid. Eugene Garfield (1983) marks a fact that Merton’s citations are practically 400 times more than that of any other theorist in the natural sciences. This fact is proven right through the vast number of articles and publications that cite Merton’s articles, even after he had died.
From the above statistics, it is clear that Merton’s theories and concepts are used in a wide-range of disciplines. Merton influenced fields of sociology and criminology along with numerous other disciplines and fields such as business and economics. There are 177 business and economics articles that cited Merton including 167 articles in theology. Fact and figures about citations are enough to analyze the fact that Merton has an undeniable influence and dynamic influence on various writers and many fields of study, researches and natural science. Robert K. Merton will still be cited for his remarkable work and concepts (as cited in Calhoun, 2013).
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