According to structural theory, a society requires an external force, the state to create cohesiveness. Personal desires are highly encouraged in the society and unrestrained ambition is encouraged. Crime is more probable in such a society of imbalance because of the lack of constraint and the unrestrained appetites of individuals who "want more" and will go to any lengths to acquire more and more.
The modern origin of the functionalist perspective is credited to French sociologist Emile Durkheim (1857-1917). Durkheim believed that every society needed deviance to remain healthy and was therefore inevitable in every society (Haralambos & Holborn, 1995).
While Durkheim introduced the idea of anomie: a situation in which social norms lose their hold over individual behaviour (Giddens, 1997), Merton expanded on this by combining anomie with cultural goals. He used this in relation to American society and the goals included: success, achievement, and material gain. Only some people can achieve these goals - others resort to deviant behaviour in order to achieve them because they feel inadequate in comparison to those who have succeeded (Giddens, 1997).He thought that deviance is a result of the structure of society. All members of society have the same goals - he termed this value consensus. However, people are placed in very different positions in the social structure (i.e. class, money, gender, etc) - and thus do not have the same opportunity to reach these shared value.
Merton identified five responses to cultural goals (Fulcher & Scott, 1999; Giddens, 1997; Haralambos & Holborn, 1995): conformity, innovation, ritualism, retreatism, and rebellion. Conformity is when an individual conforms to the norms of the society. Innovation is where the person even resorts to deviance to achieve the goals. Ritualism is when the individual abides by the norms of the society even though he abandons the hope of achieving the goals.Retreatism is when the person rejects the social values and thereby stops being competitive. Finally rebels become completely deviant trying to reconstruct social structure by subscribing to new values and norms.
Merton suggested that it is not individual personalities but the conditions of society that generated crime. Even though Merton's anomie theory of criminality has stood the test of time and still one of the most credible of all theories, it fails to answer a number of pertinent questions (Siegel 2004).
A number of questions are left unanswered by anomie theory. Merton does not explain why people chose to commit certain types of crime. For example, why does one anomic person become a mugger while another deals drugs Anomie may explain differences in crime rates, but it cannot explain why most young criminals desist from crime as adults. Does this mean that perceptions of anomie dwindle with age Is anomie short-lived (Siegel 2004)