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Crime Theories of Durkheim and Robert King Merton - Essay Example

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Crime Theories of Durkheim and Robert King Merton

Durkheim's most significant theoretical contribution to the field of criminology is his formulation of the concept of anomie. According to Durkheim's theory, society has the need and the moral right to regulate the behavior of its citizens. When society is in a state of rapid transition, the rules of society break down and people no longer can appraise their situation, "ambition was perpetually stimulated but never satisfied (Walter 1972). This condition Durkheim called "acute anomie" (Gottfredson and Hirsch 1990, p. 54). Chronic anomie occurs when overwhelming importance is attached to economic progress as the supreme goal in and of itself and secondary consideration is given to the regulation of human conduct and the control of individual ambition. These conditions which prevailed in the nineteenth century contributed significantly to the variety of social problems observed in that society (Durkheim 1992).
According to Merton's theory, deviance is most likely in societies in which success is a major societal objective but where many of the inhabitants are unable to acquire the material possessions or social status that denote success. His theoretical argument is formulated in terms of the societally recognized goals that individuals strive for and the institutionalized means used to regulate access to these desired objectives (Gottfredson and Hirsch 1990). Merton recognizes that these goals and means are not equally available to all individuals because of the differentiated class and ethnic structure of American society. Striving for success within a society that is achievement oriented, some individuals for whom traditional paths to achievement are closed follow illegitimate or deviant means to attain success within that society Although this theory was originally developed in terms of American society, it has been applied to many of the world's other industrialized societies as an explanation of the persistence of criminal behavior (Merton 1967).
The other similarity between Durkheim and Merton is an understanding social impact on an individual and his behavior. The possibility of varied acquaintances in modern, complex society led to the formulation of the theory of differential association, which holds that criminal behavior is learned through interaction with others. The extent to which criminal norms and habits are acquired is determined by the intensity and duration of the association. The mechanisms for learning criminal behavior are no different from any other kinds of learning. Briefly, stealing is no more motivated by the desire for material goods than is honest employment. In the latter case, however, the individual is sufficiently committed to the society's norms and values to channel his desires through legitimate means while in the former case, the individual will pursue his goals by illegitimate methods (Gottfredson and Hirsch 1990).
In contrast to Durkheim, Merton underlines that anomie theory addresses the impact of urban life on modern man suggesting that conflicts often arise in contemporary society because what man strives to attain is not accessible to him. This situation is characteristic solely of modern society because limited social mobility existed before the advent of ...Show more

Summary

Emile Durkheim and Robert Merton represent the early theories who develop crime theories and tried to explain causes and factors of criminal behavior. Durkheim focused on the impact of larger social developments on criminal behavior. He perceived the rapid evolution of criminality in the mid-nineteenth century in terms of the larger social changes accompanying the urbanization and industrialization of society (Gottfredson and Hirsch 1990)…
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Crime Theories of Durkheim and Robert King Merton essay example
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