Criminological Theory

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"Our primary aim is to discover how some social structures exert a definite pressure upon certain persons in the society to engage in nonconforming rather that conforming conduct. If we can locate groups peculiarly subject to such pressures, we should expect to find fairly high levels of deviant behaviour in these groups, not because the human beings comprising them are compounded of distinctive biological tendencies, but because they are responding to the social situation in which they find themselves"(Merton, 1957 p. 186).

American sociologist, Robert Merton has become one of the worlds most cited theorist in the study of deviance.

Born in 1910, in the slums of South Philadelphia, Merton received a scholarship attend Temple University, following his education at Temple, Merton won a graduate assistantship to Harvard, where he later went on to teach at the renowned University, (Lilly, 2002). In 1938, while teaching at Harvard, Merton published his book, "Social Structure and Anomie", at the age of twenty eight, (Lilly, 2002).

Working within the overall functionalist perspective- which puts a great deal of emphasis on the role of culture, Merton centred his research on the notion that deviance was a consequence of the cultural ideals imposed upon society, ( He believed that deviance was, not by nature, inherent, but socially introduced, (Empey, 1978). Like the Chicago School of Thought, Merton located the roots of his research in the very fabric of American society, (Lilly, 2002).

By examining the foundations and ideas expressed in Merton's theory, we can discover whether is work holds any relevance to our understanding of crime today.

Robert Merton took Emile Durkhiem's theory of `Anomie', ...

... middle of paper ... and a restricted class structure, he stopped short of asking how this condition originated and persists unabated, (Lilly, 2002). Despite this, his work had enormous Post War influence, and was indirectly attributed to many of the social reforms implemented in post war societies. In New Zealand we now find greater assistance to those disadvantage and programmes that attempt to reduce other problems of society such as racial discrimination.

Merton's deemed Economic adversity should see crime rise, yet it increased when there was no unemployment in New Zealand the 50s and 60s. Ironically, Merton's work seems more appropriate at examining social disadvantage at present, than when he was writing in America in the 1930s.


As a result, Robert K. Merton's theory and book, "Social Structure and Anomie" has become an integral part of criminological theory today."
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