Robert K. Merton, in 1938, began delving into how societal arrangements could create, maintain, and exacerbate social tension and individual stress. His theory of ‘strain’ – tremendously oversimplified – proposes that crime/deviance becomes more likely when a disjuncture exists between culturally derived ends (i.e. monetary success) and what the social structure makes possible. This theoretical framework, from its onset, has been the focus of numerous efforts; being tested, criticized, buttressed, and modified to increase its viability. As a result, sociology and criminology now offer a variety of strain models so as to enhance an understanding of criminogenic conditions, criminal behaviors, and social deviance (see Merton, 1938; Cohen, 1955; Cloward & Ohlin 1960; Agnew, 1992, 2002; Messner & Rosenfeld 1994). However, criminologists and sociologists alike are recognizing conditions that, once again, may result in the modification or further development of the strain tradition.
(If you’re interested in this topic, please see my earlier posts on neoliberalism (1) and (2))
Increasingly, there appears to be a connection between neoliberalism and the development of anomie. Such an association is unsurprising considering that neoliberalism encourages individuals to achieve ever greater success even though such a goal is unrealistic. In response to being blocked from realizing their never-ending aspirations, Merton (1968) argues that people in success-driven societies will feel deprived and frustrated as a divide forms between idealistic ambitions and factual reality. While such a divide has traditionally been the widest in developed capitalist states like the U.S., Passas (2000) contends that the growth of neoliberalism has exacerbated this problem in countries throughout the world. As a result, anomie, or the “withdrawal of allegiance from conventional norms and a weakening of these norms’ guiding power on behavior” has increased on a global scale (Passas 2000:20). Oozing with the anomie brought about by constant strain, neoliberalism can intensify the occurrence of violence as frustrated people struggle to live and to succeed in an unequal society. In response to this idea, it appears that as neoliberalism becomes more prominent in a country, it can be expected that anomie and, as a result, interpersonal violence within that country will increase. (more…)