Influential Theories Related to Deviance by Robert Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

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,…

Sources Used in Document:


American Sociological Review (2012). Retrieved January 29, 2014 from

Bernanke, Ben, S. (1995) 'The Macroeconomics of the Great Depression: A Comparative Approach', Journal of Money, Credit and Banking, 27 February.

Bivens, T. (2004). Robert K. Merton Draft. Florida State University Publications

Calhoun, C. (2003). Remembering Robert K. Merton. Papers in Honor of Robert K. Merton. 175-220. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Cite This Essay:

"Influential Theories Related To Deviance By Robert" (2014, January 31) Retrieved April 2, 2020, from

"Influential Theories Related To Deviance By Robert" 31 January 2014. Web.2 April. 2020. <>

"Influential Theories Related To Deviance By Robert", 31 January 2014, Accessed.2 April. 2020,