Emile Durkheim & Anomie or Strain Theory
DURKHEIM AND ANOMIE OR STRAIN THEORY
by Brent M. Pergram, Masers of Arts in Sociology
Emile Durkheim is the founder of the study of anomie theory or strain theory that believes that anomie or strain causes a person to commit suicide or some other deviant act. This research paper will discuss several articles that deal with strain theory and with Durkheims theory of anomie. I will also discuss articles on Mertons strain theory, and on Agnews General Strain Theory that expands the concept of strain. Durkheim is the founder of anomie theory, but Merton, and later Agnew made changes to the theory to try to make it a general theory that could explain most types of deviance.
Anomie is a concept that is associated with two theorists, Emile Durkheim and Robert
Merton.Durkheim introduced the term in his 1893 book The Division of Labor in Society, when he described it as a condition of deregulation occurring in society. This occurs when the general rules of a society have broken down and that people no longer know what to expect from one another. It is this state of normlessness or deregulation in society that leads to deviant behavior. Durkheim used the term anomie again in his classic 1897 book Suicide, referring to a morally deregulated condition were people have inadequate moral control over their actions. Therefore, a given society may be anomic if people do not know when to stop striving for success, or how to treat others along the way. Regardless of which of these two descriptions of anomie one uses, a brake down in either the rules of society or the moral norms, Durkheim clearly meant to describe a disruption or normal societal conditions.Durkheim was preoccupied with the effects of social change. Durkheim best illustrated his concept of anomie not in a discussion of crime but of suicide.
In the Division of Labor in Society, Durkheim proposed two concepts. First, that societies evolved from a simple, non-specialized form, called mechanical, toward a highly complex, specialized form, called organic. In a simple mechanical society people behave and think alike, and basically perform the same work tasks and have the same group-oriented goals. When societies become more complex, or organic, work also becomes more complex. In an organic society, people are no longer tied to one another and social bonds are impersonal.
Thus anomie refers to a breakdown of social norms and is a condition where norms no longer control the activities of members in society. The individuals in society cannot find their place in it, without clear rules to help guide them. Changing conditions in society as well as adjustment of life leads to dissatisfaction, conflict, and deviance. Durkheim observed that social periods of disruption, such as economic depression lead to increased levels of anomie and higher rates of crime, suicide, and deviance. Durkheim believed that sudden change caused a state of anomie. The system breaks down, either during a great prosperity or a great depression, anomie is the same result (Durkheim).
Robert K. Merton, borrowed Durkheims concept of anomie to form his own theory, called Strain Theory. It differs somewhat from Durkheims in that Merton argued that the real problem is not created by a sudden social change, as Durkheim proposed, but by a social structure that holds out the same goals to all its members without giving them equal means to achieve them. He believes that it is this lack of integration between what the culture calls for and what the structure permits that causes deviant behavior. Thus deviance is a symptom of the social structure. Merton borrowed Durkheims notion of anomie to describe the breakdown of normative systems.
Mertons theory does not focus on crime, but upon various acts of deviance, which may lead to criminal behavior. Merton believes that there are certain goals which are strongly emphasized by a given society. Society emphasizes certain means to reach those goals, such as education, and hard work.But not everyone has the equal access to the legitimate means to attain those goals, which sets the stage for anomie.
Merton presents five modes of adapting to strain caused by the restricted access to socially approved goals and means. He didnt mean that every person that was denied legitimate means to societys goals became deviant. Instead, the modes of adaptation depends on the persons attitudes toward cultural goals and the institutional means to attain them. Conformity is the most common mode of adaptation. It occurs when a person accepts both the goals as well as the prescribed means for achieving those goals. Conformists will accept, though not always achieve, the goals of society and the means approved to achieve them. Persons that adapt through innovation accept societal goals but have few legitimate means to achieve those goals, thus they innovate their own means to get ahead, such as through robbery, or other criminal acts. In the third adaptation mode of ritualism, individuals abandon the goals they once believed to be within their reach and dedicate themselves to their current lifestyle. Thus they play by the rules and have a daily routine that is safe. Retreatism is the adaptation of those who give up not only the goals but also the means. They usually retreat, by way of various addictions, such as alcoholism and drug abuse. They escape into a nonproductive, non-goals oriented lifestyle. The final type of adaptation is rebellion, which occurs when the cultural goals and the legitimate means are rejected. This forces the individual to create their own goals and means, such as by protest or revolutionary activities.
In the 1970s, strain theory came under heavy attack after having dominated deviance research in the decade of the 1960s, prompting that it become abandoned. But, since then strain theory has survived such attacks, but has been left with diminished influence. In 1992, Robert Agnew proposed a general strain theory that focuses on at least three measures of strain. He argues that actual or anticipated failure to achieve positively valued goals, actual or anticipated removal of positively valued stimuli, and actual or anticipated presentation of negative stimuli all result in strain. Agnews strain theory focuses primarily on negative relationships with others, in that a person is not treated in a way that he expects or wants. Agnew argues that people are pressured into criminal or deviant acts by negative affective states , such as anger, which results in negative relationships with others. He argues that such negative affective states leads to pressure which then leads to illegitimate ways to attain a goal. Other strain theories explain strain in a way that relationships with others prevent one from reaching positively valued goals. They focus primarily on goal blockage, that which is often experienced by the middle or lower classes.
Agnew argues that strain theory is central in explaining crime and deviance, but that it needs more revision to play a central role in sociology. His theory is written at a social-psychological level so that it focuses on a persons immediate social environment. Much of the theory is focused toward adolescent criminality, or delinquency, because so much of the data available for testing involves surveys of adolescents. He argues that his theory is capable of overcoming empirical and theoretical criticisms associated with previous strain theories.
Whitney Pope et al (1981) article, Sociologys One Law, looked at Emile Durkheims theory of egoism, which says that suicide varies proportionately based on the level of integration of an individual in a given society. Such as that Protestants have a religion that is less socially integrated than that of Catholics, which leads to differing levels of suicide. Egoism is a concept that basically means lack of integration in society, and is only one part of the larger concept of anomie.
For the purpose of the research Durkheim had a nominal definition that looked only at different levels of integration among two religions and the impact on suicide. Religion is the dependent variable that Durkheim used in his work. The authors add the nations level of development as a variable to see its impact on suicide. The operational definition of the concept that was used, was to look at suicide rates from Protestant and Catholic nations. The hypothesis of Durkheim was that because Catholics have a more socially integrated or controlling religion that they would have less egoistic suicide than Protestants.
The theory and hypothesis was measured by use of cross national longitudinal data on suicide rates from seven Catholic, and five Protestant nations. Pope et al (1981) article compared the national, female, and male suicide rates with and without control for the nations level of development, and for four different time periods from 1919 to 1972 to draw conclusions about suicide rates at the national level. In terms of reliability the authors show that when you control for the nations level of development, there is no difference between Catholic and Protestant suicide rates, which disproves part of Durkheims theory. They do say that the application of his whole theory of integration both egoism and altruism does show that the data is consistent with his theory of variation in suicide rates. In order to test reliability the authors looked at cross national data on suicide over three different time periods. The article is clearly not totally reliable because the post World War II results supported the hypothesis that Protestants have higher suicide rates than Catholics. The problem with validity of the suicide rates also comes into question, when one looks at the researchers that collect the data in each country because they may not define suicide the same way. Also they may not report some deaths as suicide due to the stigma associated with suicide. Likewise, some nations may not have consistently good data collection methods. Also one can call into question the validity of whether national data can be used to accurately measure an individual suicide or would the results be an ecological fallacy.
Frans Van Poppel et al (1996) tests Durkheims theory of suicide without committing the ecological fallacy.They say that the data adduced by Durkheim in support of the association between religion and suicide have seldom been subject to scrutiny, and when it has been examined, the scrutiny has been based on data subject to the ecological fallacy. They use data from the Netherlands for the years 1905 to 1910, to test the statistical support for Durkheims theory about religion and suicide without committing the ecological fallacy. They find the Catholic-Protestant differential in suicide rates to be explicable entirely in terms of the practice of categorizing as sudden deaths or deaths from ill-defined or unspecified causes a large proportion of deaths among Catholics which would have been categorized as suicides had they occurred among Protestants (p.500).They say We cannot say, on the basis of this analysis, whether Durkheims or some other-sociological explanation of suicide is valid. We can say that a sociological explanation receives no support from these data: The data, although roughly contemporary with and similar to those used by Durkheim, are far superior to his because they are not subject to the risk of committing the ecological fallacy (p.506).
Robert M. Fernquist (1995-96) article looks elderly suicide in Western Europe to try to show a different approach to Durkheims theory of political integration. He used data on attitudes to measue political integration, to find that political integration and suicide are negatively associated for the elderly in nine western European nations from 19 75 to 1989. Also associated with elderly suicide are the divorce rate and deaths due to cirrhosis of the liver. Religious book production was not found to be associated with suicide in the normative manner. Reasons for these associations are discussed. He says that the rate of suicide rises with age, which is consistent with the previous literature on the subject. He says that political integration, in conjunction with the economy, has been found to be associated with suicide of persons under the age of sixty-five, little is known about how it effects elderly suicide. He discusses the literature, by saying that Durkheim found that political crisis are negatively associated with suicide. Fernquist says that the political environment of western Europe from 1975 to 1989 was a time of great political unrest, with nine nations asked to vote on the unification of the European Community. He used aggregate level data to examine cross national suicide rates of persons 65 to 74, and 75 and older, and obtained age-gender specific suicide rates from the World Health Organization.
Fernquist says that the only significant negative association between political integration and suicide is for females age 65 to 74, while all other independent variables are significantly correlated with suicide for each age-gender group in the expected directions. Also he finds that the divorce rate and cirrhosis of the liver are associated with increased suicide rates (p.44) In conclusion he says that the data on attitudes of the elderly toward political unification of western Europe are significantly associated with suicide (p.45-46) The findings suggest that Durkheims concept of what political integration entails could be expanded, if only in the case of the elderly, to include attitudes toward politics as well as political events themselves (p.46).
Steven Stacks (1990) article on the effect of divorce on suicide in Denmark, from 1951 to 1980, looks at the effect of marital dissolution on suicide from a cultural and institutional framework different from previous studies that had focused on America. His article focuses on Denmark, which has a different cultural and institutional context than the United States. He says that a Cochrane-Orcutt iterative regression analysis replicates the American-based pattern for Denmark. The divorce index is more closely associated than the unemployment rate with changes in the suicide rate. He found that a 1% increase in divorce is associated with a .32% increase in suicide. He also found that divorce trends also predict the incidence of youth suicide. The article further confirms that the generalization that links rapid change in kinship structures to suicide in industrial societies (Stack, 1990: 359).
Stack devotes a section of his paper to the theoretical perspectives dealing with the subject of marital dissolution and suicide, where he discusses Durkheim. He says that some critics of Durkheims social integration perspective, says that its not testable because he never presented an explicit denotative measure of social integration. But most of the work on divorce and suicide does employ a Durkheimian explanatory scheme, such as the one Stack uses in this present study.
Durkheims theory of divorce and suicide is only a part of his larger paradigm. Durkheim constructed a theory of suicide based on the concepts of egoism, which is the lack of integration and anomie, which is the lack of regulation (Stack, 1990: 360). He discusses Durkheims position on gender differences in terms of the divorce-suicide relationship, and says that it is not altogether consistent. First Durkheim says that divorced men and women do kill themselves between three or four times more often than married persons. The data he presents clearly shows that divorce affects both genders about the same as compared to those married. But in another section of his book on Suicide, Durkheim says that women gain little from marriage, as compared to men. I would probably say that this is not a contradiction, because even though women that are single or widowed are more likely to commit suicide as his data showed, women that are married are less integrated into society as their husbands, who were permitted to continued social interactions outside the home. In Durkheims day most women did not work, they were isolated or restricted to the home, while the man was fee to interact in the outside world. Women were less socially integrated than men, therefore Durkheim believed that marriage did not benefit women as much as men.
The studies since Durkheim continues to support the marital disolution-suicide relationship, which includes Breaults (1986) study of 3,000 American counties from 1970 to 1980, Stacks (1980) study of the 50 states, and Trovatos analysis of Canadian provinces just to name a few.
Stacks (1990) study however has a broader theoretical approach in that he includes the sociohistorical context to see its impact upon suicide and divorce rates (.p.361)
Stacks (1990) study, used data from the World Health Organization, to provide annual population estimates and to calculate the suicide rate in Denmark. The two hypothesis that he tests are first that the greater the divorce rate, the greater the suicide rate, and secondly the greater the divorce rate, the greater the suicide rate among young people (p.362).
Stack (1990) article concludes that Although the Danish context represents a different set of social circumstances, such as a much lower rate of divorce, the findings of American-based research are replicated: the greater the divorce rate, the greater that of suicide over time(p.366).
Stack (1990) says that religiosity was unrelated to suicide and divorce in Denmark, because of the high level of secularization of religion in Denmark. This fact makes it far less likely to influence suicide than in Durkheims day. Stack says that nearly a hundred years after Durkheims classic book on Suicide, the rate of suicide in Denmark has remained high or increased, while the great transformation of industrialization, urbanization, and secularization, that Durkheims theory responded to, has subsided, suicide remains high( p.366). He says that the countervailing institutional framework that Durkheim thought might reverse the rise of suicide has yet to occur. K.D. Breault and Barkeys (1982) article does a comparative analysis of Durkheims theory of egoistic suicide. They use a comparative cross-national test of Durkheims theory of egoistic suicide, including indicators of religious, family, and political integration. He used data from the United Nations, which they says was the best presently available. In the theory section of the paper they discussed Durkheims theory that specified four types of suicide, which were egoistic, altruistic, anomic, and fatalistic. Durkheim uses level of integration and regulation to explain the variables, such as that when integration is low, egoistic suicide results; when integration is high, altruistic suicide results; when regulation is low, anomic suicide results; when regulation is high, fatalistic suicide results. They ignored Durkheims theory of regulation, and also the altruistic suicide part of his theory of integration. They says that Linear and nonlinear multiple regression analysis showed that the relationship between religious integration and suicide and between political integration and suicide are inversely related, while the relationship between family integration and suicide is linear (p.321). They also find that the relationship between the independent and dependent variables are strong and highly significant, and that taken together the indicators of religious, family, and political integration explain about 76 percent of the variation in international rates of suicide (Breault and Barkeys, 1982: 328).
Breault and Barkeys (1982) paper provides strong support for Durkheims theory of egoistic suicide.They says that the results he reports and of previous studies show that Durkheims theory of suicide has weathered exceptionally well over the decades and show strong support for his theory.
Steven Stack (1983) comment on Breault and Barkeys (1982) paper on Durkheims egoistic suicide. He said that there are some conceptual problems regarding the phenomena of integration and religious commitment, because their is much debate by what Durkheim meant by integration.
Stack (1983) says that Durkheims theory should predict high suicide rates in the United States because of the fact that we have no national religion uniting the population under a shared system of beliefs and practices (p.626).He gone on to say that countries with a national religion, like Austria, Denmark, and Sweden, should have lower suicides (Stack, 1983: 626) Stack (1983) has a second criticism, when he says the relationships may be spurious, because the study omitted control variables from their model that are related to suicide, such as level of economic development, female participation in the labor force, and rate of economic growth (Ibid). He recommends that the study would be strengthened if the dependent variable were broken into and and sex specific rates, because American data has shown that females and older persons are more committed to religion (Ibid). His third problem with the Breault-Barkey study deals with their literature review. He says they fail to cite previous comparative work, much of which supports their findings. Finally he mentions that their is a little technical error in the data source section, were the mixed up their source citations about United Nations data.He concludes by saying they should have used a theory other than Durkheim to explain the linkage between their particular religiosity indicators and suicide (Stack, 1983: 627).
In their reply to Stack (1983), Breault and Barkey (1983), says that their paper was not a literature review, which is why they only used the most relevant materials. They say that they intentionally ignored literature that was overly concerned with indirect tests of Durkheims theory (p.629).They then criticize Stacks papers for focusing on incorrect variables that only indirectly test Durkheims theory. They say that Turning to Stacks (1981) paper on religion and suicide, the work of Pope and Danigelis (1981) and Stark et al. (1983) brings out (as Stack fails to do) the important finding that the thrust of Durkheims theory is correct: religion does offer some protection from suicide, even though it seems now (and perhaps even in the 1890s) that denomination does not matter, thus contradiction Durkheims operationalization of his
theory (Breault and Barkey, 1983: 630). In terms of Stacks criticism that they failed to account for certain control variables, they reply that no support for Stacks control variables were found in their preliminary work ( p.631). After answering all of Stacks criticisms, they say that All readers of Suicide should be aware of the distance between Durkheims theory and his testing of the theory. Durkheims operationalization and testing of his theory do not constitute his theory, and as a result his tests of the theory do not preclude other tests still fully consistent with his theory (Breault and Barkey, 1983: 632). They finish by saying that Durkheims Suicide is but one piece of Durkheims theory of integration: it is as much a mistake to focus narrowly on Suicide as it is to focus on The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism without benefit of the theoretical context in which it is embedded (Breault and Barkey, 1983: 632).
Robert Travis (1990) article compares Halbwachs and Drurkheimss theories of suicide. The study is based on the social integration hypothesis, first asserted by Durkheim in late nineteenth-century France. Many of his assumptions are based on a social disorganization model, that tended to equate social change with the breakdown of social control and many of Durkheims notions about anomie are derived from this view of industrial society (p.225).Travis (1990) says that Halbwachs, on the other hand, proposed a social psychological theory of suicide. His model specifies more clearly the conditions under which lack of social integration may induce
suicide (p 225).Travis (1990) study shows that among a population in transition, the Alaska Natives, the suicide rate was explained by the Halbwachsian model at least as well as the Durkheimian one and sometimes better (p.225) Travis (1990) says The Durkheimian model is shown to reflect a Caresian dualism, which accounts only for that which is observable, thus making for biased studies of suicide (p.239).He says that psychopathological research confirms the Halbwachsian model (Travis, 1990: 242). Travis (1990) is critical of Durkheims rejection of organic-psychic causes of suicide, and says the body and mind are not separate, but are one. He says that his study shows that a large part of suicides are made up of people that are afraid of being alone or socially isolated. He says that social facts are more than that which is observed as Durkheim argues, by only looking at causes outside the person, while ignoring various internal psychological causes that lead to suicide Travis, 1990, 239).
Travis (1990) finishes by saying that These findings restore the social isolation theory, once long neglected to its rightful place among theories of suicide and opens up an important field for researchers seeking to understand high rates of suicide (p.225).Travis (1990) says we must either abandon the Durkheim model or synthesize it with Halbwachs model, which has been done with egoistic suicide (p.242).
Bernice A. Pescosolido (1990) article suggests that Durkheims ideas on the impact of religious affiliation on suicide needs to be updated and tailored to the modern cultural landscape of the United States. Pescosolido (1990) article pursues the potential utility of a network perspective by suggesting that a significant contextual element has been neglected date Geographical context, both regional and rural-urban dimensions, also delimits the differential ability of religions to form a community of social support capable of integrating individuals (p.337) She says that if the network approach is correct then the effects of religious affiliation across geographical areas should vary in a manner consistent with notions of how social structural opportunity and tradition (or lack thereof) affect religious network strength (Pescosolido, 1990: 337) Her theoretical background section discusses Durkheims theory of integration from his classic 1897 book on Suicide, about Protestants being less integrated in society than Catholics. She used data from the United States Census in 1970 and limited the analysis to white adults. Also the death rates per 100,000 from suicide come from the 1970 mortality tape provided by the National Center for Health Statistics (1972), and information on religious profile of county groups, from a 1971 National Council of Church survey, and information on Jewish affiliation from the American Jewish yearbook (Pescosolido, 1990: 342).
In conclusion Pescosolido (1990) article using detailed analysis of suicide, religion, and sociodemographic data by region and population density in United States county groups do, in fact, indicate that for many major religious groups the effects of religious affiliation on suicide vary across geographical areas, consistent with the theory.For example, she says while Judaisms protective effect is small overall, it is large in the Northeast and reversed in the South. The protective strength also is reverse for Catholicism in the South and many evangelical Protestant groups in the Northeast (Pescosolido, 1990: 337 & 353). Pescosolido (1990) says that Overall, the results suggest that region exerts a greater impact on religious affiliation effects than does population density, though the latter does impact on Catholic & Jewish
effects (p.337). She says that the update and elaboration presented here continues to suggest the promise of using a broad network interpretation of Durkheims theory in etiological studies of suicide (Pescosolido, 1990: 353).
Robert K. Merton is highly regarded as one of the most influential sociolohgists of the 20th century. Merton redefined the anomie theory in which the methods of achieving ones goals conflicted with the goal. He is able to present his theory in a model that everyone can understand, the American Dream. Individuals according to their situation may take on one of the five adaptations: conformity, innovations, ritualisic, retreatism, or rebellion. Mertons theory is still popular today and is applied by other students of criminology and various theorists. The anomie theory has been applied to the Mobilization of Youth project. Concluding that the social structure causes inequality within the culture structure (Camp). Merton based his work on Durkheims ideas of anomie, although his work was broader in orientation and more specific in application. Merton applied his research to mental disorders, drug addicts, suicide, and deviance.
Merton defines anomie conceived as a break down in the cultural structure, occurring particularly when there is an acute disjunction between culture norms and goals and the social structure capacities of members of the group to act in accord with them (Clinard, 1968: 12) He defines deviant as conduct that departs significantly from the norms set for people in their social statuses… (Clinard, 1968: 11) Merton was also against biological theory as inherited traits, unlike Durkheim, who believed in biological nature, an individual who has innate desires to achieve the impossible. Mertion also was against Freuds theory that man is inevitably in constant struggle with his body and society. Merton said within the social structure there are two characteristics 1) goals and 2) obtaining the goals (Reid, 1979) Also Durkheim and, Mertion both agreed that crime is normal, approaching deviant behavior as normal resulting from some social situation. They accepted that crime was normal for the following reasons, it is found in every society, increases as city life development increases, is a common part of collective life, and is necessary to show collective sentiments. They believe that crime is useful because in is something that a majority of people will find morally wrong, and the collective of people will punish crime to show their social values and moral sentiments that would become blurred if their was no crime in a society (Morrison, 1995: 159). Durkheims theory was abstract and Mertons was designed to be understandable. Also similar to Durkheim, he approached deviant behavior as normal, and that conformity in society is equal, as deviant behavior in society is equal pending on social pressures.
Farnworth and Leiber (1989) article says that Mertons theory of strain and crime has withstood half a century of theoretical controversy, but recent disillusionment with its empirical verification has led may to reject it as a viable explanation for delinquency (p.263).They say that the theory has been falsified by evidence to date, on the grounds that conceptual reinterpretations have differed from Mertons original statement.
Farnworth and Leiber (1989) used secondary data collected in Seattle, Washington, in 197 8-79, with a stratified disproportionate random sampling procedure to over-sample youths at a high risk for delinquency (p.266).In their theoretical background section they used Mertons original definitions, such as that strain originates from the contradictions in the structure and cultural goals of modern industrial society. Merton proposed that individual strain is most likely among lower class members who internalize cultural goals of wealth and status but recognize blocks to conventional means for attaining those goals (p.264).Farnworth and Leiber (1989) says that Analysies of self-reported juvenile data indicate that the overall predictive validity of a measure based on the disjunction of economic goals and educational means surpasses the more common measure of disjunction between educational aspirations and expectations (p.263) On the basis of findings from past studies that included various reconceptualizations of strain, researchers have advocated the abandonment of strain theory, its truncation in integrative attempts, or revisions that remove the theory from its social structural context (Agnew 1985). The findings from their study however suggests that the apparent failure of strain theory in recent empirical study might be a function of inappropriate operationalization. Therefore they think that empirical findings to date are not sufficient to falsify the basic postulates of Mertons theory of strain and deviance (Farnworth and Leiber, 1989: 272) They found that both strain theory and control theory of Hirschi (1969) are useful for the study of delinquency. They speculate that on the bases of their findings that strain theory could be integrated with control theory. Since, commitment can be measured as either economic or educational goals, with different implications for delinquency showing that their combination in a single model would maximize the variance explained in a prediction model (Farnworth and Leiber, 1989: 272). But whether integration of strain and control theories takes place, Mertons strain theory is seen as a viable and promising theory of delinquency and crime (Ibid).
Scott Menard (1995) article conducted a test of Mertons proposed theory of anomie and deviant behavior in which social-structure and cultural patterns led to individual adaptations, which in turn brought about differential individual and aggregate rates of crime and other forms of deviance. They say that Mertons theory of anomie and deviant behavior has not been tested adequately. Menard (1995) used oversimplified tests involving the relationship between crime and social class or between crime and the discrepancy between aspirations and expectations disregard both structural and social-psychological aspects of the theory. Menard (1995) says that findings from the present study using data from the National Youth Survey indicate that a properly specified test of Mertons anomie theory accounts for 17% to 23% of the variance in the frequency of minor delinquency. Also explains 8% to 14% of the frequency of minor delinquency, 14% to 34% of marijuana use, and 2% to 18% of polydrug use (p.169). e says that the levels of explained variance in the present study equal or exceed those commonly obtained in tests of control theory (Menard, 1995: 169). He does say that the theory should be refined, such as to include consideration of illegitimate opportunity as raised by Cloward (1959), accepted by Merton (1959) as an appropriate modification to his anomie theory and later incorporated into the opportunity theory of Cloward and Ohlin (1960).
Agnew et al. (1996) article offering a new test of classic strain theory discusses classical strain theories of Mertion and Cloward and Ohlin. The central variable in classic strain theory is the individuals level of dissatisfaction or frustration with his monetary status. They say that this variable has been ignored in virtually all tests of the theory. Most often strain is measured indirectly in terms of the disjunction between aspirations and expectations. Agnew et al. (1996) paper directly measures dissatisfaction with monetary status, and draws on classic strain theory to explore the determinants and effects of such dissatisfaction. Data from a sample of adults in Cincinnati indicate that dissatisfaction is highest among objectively deprived individuals and those who desire a lot of money, have low expectations for making a lot of money, and feel relatively deprived. Further, dissatisfaction has a positive effect on both income-generating crime and drug use (Agnew et al. 1996: 681).They found that this effect is strongest among individuals that have criminal friends and beliefs conductive to crime. They say that unlike findings in much previous research on the theory, these data provide qualified support for classic strain theory (Agnew et al. 1996: 681). The data shows that the central variable in classic strain theory, the dissatisfaction with monetary status is related to both income-generation crimes and drug use (Agnew et al. 1996: 698)Also the data shows that those with less education and less income have more dissatisfaction or strain. They show that dissatisfaction with ones monetary situation may be an important cause of crime, especially when this dissatisfaction hits persons with deviant beliefs and associates (Agnew et al. 1996: 670) . They recommend that the theory needs some revision regarding the determinants of strain.
In the 1970s strain theory came under heavy attack after having dominated deviance research in the 1960s, prompting most to abandon the study of it. However, in 1992 Robert Agnew proposed to revise the old strain theory to try to overcome some of its shortcomings. This is why General Strain Theory (GST) focuses not on only one measure of strain, but on three measures of strain. Agnew says that actual or anticipated failure to achieve positively valued goals, actual or anticipated removal of positively valued stimuli, and actual or anticipated presentation of negative stimuli all will result in strain.
Unlike previous strain theories, GST focuses mainly on negative relationships with others, in that a person is not treated in a way they expect or want to be treated. Agnew argues that people are pressured into deviant or criminal acts by negative affective states, especially anger, which results in negative relationships. And that such negative affects leads to pressure which then leads to illegitimate ways to attain a goal. Other strain theories, like Mertions explain strain in a way that relationships with others prevent one from reaching positively valued goals. Other strain theories, like Merton focus mainly on goal blockage, which is most often experienced by the middle and lower class.
Agnews GST is written at a social-psychological level, which is different from the social-structural levels of Durkheim and Mertion. The theory is a social-psychological level approach that lets one focus on a persons immediate social environment. The theory is mainly focused toward explaining adolescent criminality or delinquency, because much of the data available for testing it involves surveys of adolescents. Agnew thinks that GST is capable of overcoming empirical and theoretical criticisms associated with prior versions of strain theory. His theory is capable of incorporating variables from other theories like social control and differential association that have been shown in previous studies to influence deviance. He proposes several factors that determine whether a person will cope with strain in a criminal or conforming manner, including temperament, intelligence, interpersonal skills, self-efficacy, association with criminal peers, and conventional social support. The above factors that are studied in other theories, and he uses them to help improve strain theory.
Timothy Brezina (1996) article, Adapting to Strain, shows that strain is positively associated with the experience of several negative emotions, such as anger, resentment, and depression, and that delinquency reduces the impact of strain on those emotions. Brezina shows that delinquency is coping behavior or adaptive behavior to help adolescents to minimize the negative emotional affects of strain. The problem with the study was that the cross-sectional nature of the analyses makes it impossible to confirm the causal order implied by the hypotheses. Therefore, the cross-sectional results that support GST need to be verified with longitudinal data, which the Youth in Transition Study cannot do to test the various hypotheses.
Paternoster and Mazerolle (1994) article found partial support for general strain theory. It was consistent with Agnew and Whites (1992) work, finding that negative relationships with adults, dissatisfaction with friends and school, and the experience of stressful events, such as family breakup or unemployment were positively related to delinquency. But they found no evidence that a broader exposure to negative stimuli causing strain was not effected by the duration of stressful events, which means that how long stressful events occur had no impact on delinquency as Agnew had argued. Contrary to Agnews expectations they also found no support that impediments to delinquent or non-delinquent strategies interact with strain, meaning that coping strategies had no effect on strain. Paternoster and Mazerolle (1994) says that general strain was positively related to subsequent delinquency regardless of level of delinquent peers, delinquent disposition, moral beliefs, self-efficacy, and conventional social support networks. They admit that other strategies to cope with strain were not discussed, such as school activities, athletics, or escapism through drug use. They was also unable to test Agnews key variable anger.
In The conditional effects of stress on delinquency and drug use, Hoffman and Su (1997) found that stressful life events among female and male adolescents are similarly associated with delinquency and drug use, which shows that one key concept of Agnews GST crosses demographic lines defined by gender. They were not able to show that female interpersonal and male individualistic development models differences could predict delinquency & drug use. They say that males and females may not experience different levels of strain, but that they may react to stress with different responses, such as anger for males, and depression for females. They do find that similar causal processes by males and females links stress to delinquency and drug use, but the results need to be confirmed with data from a probability sample (Hoffman and Su, 1997).
The main problem with General Strain Theory is that no current data sets allow for the full testing of the above hypothesis or of all of the GST as a whole. Researchers need to collect comprehensive data on most of the measures of GST to test the importance of the theory.
Future longitudinal studies should explore the causal relationship among strain, social control, differential association, and other theories to see if one or more of the theories affects the others theories. For example associations with delinquent peers (differential association), could cause negative relations and emotions to others (general strain theory), because they are labeled as delinquent (labeling theory), and therefore have limited opportunities and a reduction in positive proactive social bonds with the rest of society (social control), which limits non-delinquent coping strategies and increases the likelihood of deviance.
Negative relations have a substantial effect on deviance, even when controlling for social control and differential association measures. In order to determine if strain caused delinquency, one would have to know if such things as association with deviant peers wasnt the real cause of delinquency.If a adolescent was associated with a deviant group or individual (differential association), that negative relationships could teach or promote deviance (learning theory), that could create the stigma of being deviant (labeling theory), or reduce social bonds with positive relationships, such as family, school, and church (social control theory), which leads to an increased likelihood of deviant behavior. This basically means that other theories may be the cause of deviance that leads to strain, or some of them may work together to increase the likelihood of strain when certain conditions are favorable for deviance. It could be said then that negative associations, the things learned from those negative relations, the stigma attached and the limiting of opportunities of those within those negative relations, the weakening of positive social bonds associated with those in negative relations, may all increase the likelihood that strain due to loss of positive attachments, negative relationships with negative affects, such as anger, and frustration could lead to an increased likelihood of deviance. Strain may then be only one of many factors that acts in collaboration with multiple direct variables to increase the likelihood of deviance and crime. Positive social bonds and the positive labeling, and positive relationships that would result from such proactive empathetic bonds, would reduce the likelihood of strain, and even in cases of strain, would provide a strong support network that could provide positive coping strategies that would result in non-deviant responses to stressful life events.
Clearly the majority of articles that I have reviewed leads me to conclude that anomie theory, classic strain theory, and general strain theory all find support with some criticism. The main problem is that certain key variables of the theories have not been studied, and the conceptual framework of other studies has misinterpreted the key concepts of the theory. Some say that most of the research on anomie and then on classical strain failed to falsify the theories because they had not really been tested to prove or disprove key concepts. Clearly further research studies are needed that focus on the key concepts of strain, and better methodological data sets need to be developed to test the new theories of strain as well. Also longitudinal studies should be used to avoid the problem of causal order resulting from cross-sectional studies. The theories may need some modifications in terms of the variables that cause crime, but the theory still shows that it has withstood decades of criticism and offers important insights to the causes of crime in society.
Williams III and McShane (1999) says that policy implications are easy to draw from anomie and strain theories; putting them into practice is another manner entirely (p.103). Since anomie is a macro-level theory, the proper form of policy would be aimed at modifying the social structure, such as to eliminate the class structures, racism, and prejudice, all of which are factors working to limit the opportunities for reaching goals (Williams and McShane, 1999: 103). Other recommended approaches includes programs to provide increased job opportunities, such as the Depression era work programs, and many government programs created in the 1960s aimed at increasing opportunities for meaningful work to help the poor. Also more educational opportunities would be favored under strain theory. From the perspective of Agnews strain theory, finding ways to decrease negative relationships in families, schools, and neighborhoods, would be a reasonable approach to reduce strain.
A final policy approach offered by Ruth Kornhauser (1978) as well as Steve Brown, Fin Esbensen, and Gil Geis (1991) have suggested that a policy implication of anomie theory would be to reduce aspirations that cause strain for those unable to achieve them. One could say that the American Dream is over, but no one would accept a loss of aspirations, and crime is not the worst ill in society. Anomie theory accepts that crime is a normal part of society.
The Merton-Durkheim theory of anomie, and related theories of strain and control, continue, to provide important orienting perspectives within criminology, deviance, and the sociology of
law (Abrahamson, 1996: 249).
Abrahamson, Mark. 1996. Criminology, deviance, law — The Legacy of Anomie Theory
edited by Freda Adler and William S. Laufer. CONTEMPORARY SOCIOLOGY,
Vol.25, No.2, pp.249-250.
Agnew, Robert. 1992. Foundations For A General Strain Theory of Crime and Delinquency,
CRIMINOLOGY, Vol. 30, pp.47-87.
Agnew, Robert; Cullen, Francis T.; Burton Jr., Velmer S.; Evans, T. David; and Dunaway,
R. Gregory. 1996. A New Test Of Classical Strain Theory, JUSTICE QUARTERLY,
Vol. 13, No. 4, pp.681-701.
Agnew, Robert, and White, Helen. 1992. An Empirical Test of General Strain Theory,
CRIMINOLOGY, Vol. 30, pp.475-499.
Breault, K.D. and Barkey, Karen. 1982. A Comparative Analysis of Durkheims Theory Of
Egoisitic Suicide, THE SOCIOLOGICAL QUARTERLY, Vol. 23, pp.321-331.
_______, 1983. Durkheim Scholarship and Suicidology: Different Ways of Doing Research in
History of Social Thought and Different Interpretations of Durkheims Suicide, THE
SOCIOLOGICAL QUARTERLY, Vol.24, pp.629-632.
Brezina, Timothy. 1996. Adapting To Strain: An Examination Of Delinquent Coping
Responses, CRIMINOLOGY, Vol.34, No.1, pp.39-59.
Camp, Sarah. Robert K. Mertons Anomie Theory,
Clinard, M.B. 1968. ANOMIE AND DEVIANT BEHAVIOR. 4th Ed. The Free Press.
Durkheim, Emile. 1893. The Division of Labor in Society. New York: The Free Press.
________, 1951. SUICIDE, The Free Press.
Farnworth, Margaret and Leiber, Michael J. 1989. Strain Theory Revisted: Economic Goals,
Educational Means, and Delinquency, AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICAL REVIEW,
Vol. 54, pp.263-274
Fernquist, Robert M. 1995-96. Elderly Suicide in Western Europe 1975-1989: A
Different Approach to Durkheims Theory of Political Integration, OMEGA,
Vol.32, No.1, pp.39-48.
Hoffman, John P. and Su, Susan S. 1997. The Conditional Effects of Stress on
Delinquency and Drug Use: A Strain Theory Assessment of Sex Differences,
JOURNAL OF RESEARCH IN CRIME AND DELINQUENCY. Vol. 34, pp.46-78.
Menard, Scott. 1995. A Developmental Test of Mertonian Anomie Theory,
JOURNAL OF RESEARCH IN CRIME AND DELINQUENCY, Vol.32, pp.136-174.
Morrison, Ken 1995. MARX, DURKHEIM, WEBER: Formations of Modern Social
Social Thought. Sage Publications.
Paternoster, Raymond and Mazerolle, Paul. 1994. General Strain Theory And
Delinquency: A Replication and Extension, JOURNAL OF RESEARCH IN CRIME
AND DELINQUENCY, Vol. 31, pp. 235-263.
Pescosolido, Bernice A. 1990. The Social Context Of Religious Integration and Suicide:
Pursuing the Network Explanation. THE SOCIOLOGICAL QUARTERLY, Vol.31,
No. 3, pp. 337-357.
Pope, Whitney and Danigelis, Nick. 1981. Sociologys One Law, SOCIAL FORCES
Vol. 60, No. 2, pp. 495-516.
Reid, S.T. 1979. CRIME AND CRIMINOLOGY. Prentice-Hall.
Stack, Steven. 1983. A Comparative Analysis of Durkheims Theory of Egoistic Suicide:
A Comment, THE SOCIOLOGICAL QUARTERLY, Vol. 24, pp.625-628.
_________, 1990. The Effect Of Divorce On Suicide In Denmark, 1951-1980.
THE SOCIOLOGICAL QUARTERLY, Vol. 31, No. 3, pp. 359-370.
Travis, Robert. 1990. Halbwachs and Durkheim: A Test Of Two Theories of Suicide,
BRITISH JOURNAL OF SOCIOLOGY (BJS), Vol. 41, No. 2
Van Poppel, Frans, and Day, Lincoln H. 1996. A Test of Durkheims Theory of Suicide
Without Committing the Ecological Fallacy, AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICAL REVIEW,
Vol. 61, No. 3, pp. 500-507.
Williams III, Frank P. and McShane, Marilyn D. 1999. CRIMINOLOGY THEORY. 3rd Ed.
Prentice Hall. See Chapter 6 on Anomie Theory.
(Note: Research Paper Written Dec. 10, 1998 for Graduate Credit at Morehead State Universtiy, by Brent Monroe Pergram, who received a Masters of Arts in General Sociology May 2000)