Strain Theory of Deviance & Reference Groups


Today, I will be presenting Robert Merton’s Strain Theory of Deviance. Deviance, which means not conforming to social norms, usually warrants disapproval from the majority in society. A great example would be the black sheep of the family. His theory explains how society’s encouragement of high aspirations but denial of success opportunities can
cause strain, and deviance may occur. According to him, there are five types of
deviance, which are based upon two important criteria. One, cultural goals,
these are goals set by society such as marriage and forming a family. Two,
conventional means, this is what is generally done or believed by members of
society. In the ANU, I’ve seen different attitudes from various students. Here are
some examples. This is me, I wish to achieve success one day, and that means being able to earn lots of money, live in a big house, and be my own boss. I was
taught that this meant success. I was also taught that to achieve these goals
through conventional means meant that I needed to attend all my classes and
study hard to get good grades. This is because society says that achieving good
grades meant that I would be able to find a well-paying job after I graduate.
So this is known as the conformity attitude, because I’m trying to achieve cultural goals through conventional means. Amy has the same cultural goals as I do, she has the same aspirations, and she definitely wants good grades in her
degree. However, she didn’t have enough time to prepare for her finals due to work
commitments. She decided to cheat to get the grade she wants. This is called
innovation, because she used illegitimate means to achieve cultural goals. James is taking a degree he has
absolutely no interest in, however, he was taught that taking this degree would
guarantee great career prospects after he graduates. Not surprisingly though, he
was not able to excel in his degree. Nevertheless, he still attends most of
his classes even though he dreams to be a farmer one day. This is called ritualism, because he does not care for cultural goals but still uses
conventional moves to achieve them. Jake rejects goals society expects from him, he also rejects conventional means to achieve them. He loves partying and he
wants to do that regularly throughout his university life, because he enjoys it.
This is known as retreatism. Eunice believes that the goal of going to university is to enact social change, her goal isn’t to get a degree and then get
good grades to find a well-paying job after she graduates. She makes it a point
to engage in school protests that helps enact social changes she believes in. This is known as rebellion, because she wants to redefine cultural goals and
conventional means set by society. Merton also has a theory on reference groups. According to him, the most important part of socialisation actually comes from
groups in which we don’t belong in. Hollywood celebrities are a great
example. Reference groups are people that we find relatable and who we aspire to
be. James’ reference group could be farmers in Australia. He definitely does
not belong in that social group but he dreams of a life like theirs. So, a lot
of why people do depends a lot on their reference groups because they set our
goals!

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