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Two contrasting views of the general nature of deviant behavior have been discussed in readings for the first part of this course. On the one hand, early sociologists and many contempor

Two contrasting views of the general nature of deviant behavior have been discussed in readings for the first part of this course. On the one hand, early sociologists and many contemporary researchers in psychology, psychiatry, and criminology have viewed deviant behavior as a product of individual pathology. In this view, the causes of deviant behavior are typically attributed to psychological disorders or dysfunctions, genetic defects, or other abnormal traits or conditions of individuals.

On the other hand, most sociologists have followed the view of Merton and Sutherland that deviant behavior is created through normal social processes. For instance, this view is reflected in the idea that criminal behavior is a “rational” means to obtain material success for members of the lower class (Merton) or that deviant behavior is learned through normal processes of social interaction in primary groups (Sutherland). A central implication of this position is that virtually any person could become deviant under the “right” social circumstances.

Where do you stand? Do you see most forms of deviant behavior as (a) manifestations of individual pathology or as (b) normal responses to social conditions? 

Indicate which view makes the most sense to you and discuss the reasons and evidence that lead you to prefer that position. Feel free to refer to readings or other literature, but avoid lengthy quotes—state your argument in your own words.

Your analysis must be double-spaced, 250 – 500 words, and contain at least two in-text citations from assigned materials. This formal assignment should be grammatically correct without spelling or other errors.

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Excerpts from The Sociological Imagination; Chapter One: The Promise by C. Wright Mills (1959)

Nowadays people often feel that their private lives are a series of traps. They sense that within their everyday

worlds, they cannot overcome their troubles, and in this feeling, they are often quite correct. What ordinary

people are directly aware of and what they try to do are bounded by the private orbits in which they live; their

visions and their powers are limited to the close-up scenes of job, family, neighborhood; in other milieux, they

move vicariously and remain spectators. And the more aware they become, however vaguely, of ambitions and

of threats which transcend their immediate locales, the more trapped they seem to feel.

Underlying this sense of being trapped are seemingly impersonal changes in the very structure of continent-wide

societies. The facts of contemporary history are also facts about the success and the failure of individual men

and women. When a society is industrialized, a peasant becomes a worker; a feudal lord is liquidated or

becomes a businessman. When classes rise or fall, a person is employed or unemployed; when the rate of

investment goes up or down, a person takes new heart or goes broke. When wars happen, an insurance

salesperson becomes a rocket launcher; a store clerk, a radar operator; a wife or husband lives alone; a child

grows up without a parent. Neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood

without understanding both.

Yet people do not usually define the troubles they endure in terms of historical change and institutional

contradiction. The well-being they enjoy, they do not usually impute to the big ups and downs of the societies in

which they live. Seldom aware of the intricate connection between the patterns of their own lives and the course

of world history, ordinary people do not usually know what this connection means for the kinds of people they

are becoming and for the kinds of history-making in which they might take part. They do not possess the quality

of mind essential to grasp the interplay of individuals and society, of biography and history, of self and world.

They cannot cope with their personal troubles in such ways as to control the structural transformations that

usually lie behind them.


Perhaps the most fruitful distinction with which the sociological imagination works is between ‘the personal

troubles of milieu’ and ‘the public issues of social structure.’ This distinction is an essential tool of the

sociological imagination and a feature of all classic work in social science.

Troubles occur within the character of the individual and within the range of his or her immediate relations with

others; they have to do with one’s self and with those limited areas of social life of which one is directly and

personally aware. Accordingly, the statement and the resolution of troubles properly lie within the individual as

a biographical entity and within the scope of one’s immediate milieu – the social setting that is directly open to

her personal experience and to some extent her willful activity. A trouble is a private matter: values cherished by

an individual are felt by her to be threatened.

Issues have to do with matters that transcend these local environments of the individual and the range of her

inner life. They have to do with the organization of many such milieu into the institutions of an historical society

as a whole, with the ways in which various milieux overlap and interpenetrate to form the larger structure of

social and historical life. An issue is a public matter: some value cherished by publics is felt to be threatened.

Often there is a debate about what that value really is and about what it is that really threatens it. This debate is

often without focus if only because it is the very nature of an issue, unlike even widespread trouble, that it

cannot very well be defined in terms of the immediate and everyday environments of ordinary people. An issue,

in fact, often involves a crisis in institutional arrangements, and often too it involves what Marxists call

‘contradictions’ or ‘antagonisms.’

In these terms, consider unemployment. When, in a city of 100,000, only one is unemployed, that is his personal

trouble, and for its relief we properly look to the character of the individual, his skills and his immediate

opportunities. But when in a nation of 50 million employees, 15 million people are unemployed, that is an issue,

and we may not hope to find its solution within the range of opportunities open to any one individual. The very

structure of opportunities has collapsed. Both the correct statement of the problem and the range of possible

solutions require us to consider the economic and political institutions of the society, and not merely the

personal situation and character of a scatter of individuals.

Consider war. The personal problem of war, when it occurs, may be how to survive it or how to die in it with

honor; how to make money out of it; how to climb into the higher safety of the military apparatus; or how to

contribute to the war’s termination. In short, according to one’s values, to find a set of milieux and within it to

survive the war or make one’s death in it meaningful. But the structural issues of war have to do with its causes;

with what types of people it throws up into command; with its effects upon economic and political, family and

religious institutions, with the unorganized irresponsibility of a world of nation-states.

Consider marriage. Inside a marriage a man and a woman may experience personal troubles, but when the

divorce rate during the first four years of marriage is 250 out of every 1,000 attempts, this is an indication of a

structural issue having to do with the institutions of marriage and the family and other institutions that bear upon


Or consider the metropolis – the horrible, beautiful, ugly, magnificent sprawl of the great city. For many

members of the upperclass the personal solution to ‘the problem of the city’ is to have an apartment with private

garage under it in the heart of the city and forty miles out, a house by Henry Hill, garden by Garrett Eckbo, on a

hundred acres of private land. In these two controlled environments – with a small staff at each end and a private

helicopter connection – most people could solve many of the problems of personal milieux caused by the facts of

the city. But all this, however splendid, does not solve the public issues that the structural fact of the city poses.

What should be done with this wonderful monstrosity? Break it all up into scattered units, combining residence

and work? Refurbish it as it stands? Or, after evacuation, dynamite it and build new cities according to new

plans in new places? What should those plans be? And who is to decide and to accomplish whatever choice is

made? These are structural issues; to confront them and to solve them requires us to consider political and

economic issues that affect innumerable milieux.

In so far as an economy is so arranged that slumps occur, the problem of unemployment becomes incapable of

personal solution. In so far as war is inherent in the nation-state system and in the uneven industrialization of the

world, the ordinary individual in her restricted milieu will be powerless – with or without psychiatric aid – to

solve the troubles this system or lack of system imposes upon him. In so far as the family as an institution turns

women into darling little slaves and men into their chief providers and unweaned dependents, the problem of a

satisfactory marriage remains incapable of purely private solution. In so far as the overdeveloped megalopolis

and the overdeveloped automobile are built-in features of the overdeveloped society, the issues of urban living

will not be solved by personal ingenuity and private wealth.

What we experience in various and specific milieux, I have noted, is often caused by structural changes.

Accordingly, to understand the changes of many personal milieux we are required to look beyond them. And the

number and variety of such structural changes increase as the institutions within which we live become more

embracing and more intricately connected with one another. To be aware of the idea of social structure and to

use it with sensibility is to be capable of tracing such linkages among a great variety of milieux. To be able to do

that is to possess the sociological imagination.


Social Structure and Anomie Author(s): Robert K. Merton Source: American Sociological Review, Vol. 3, No. 5 (Oct., 1938), pp. 672-682 Published by: American Sociological Association Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2084686 Accessed: 02-06-2017 20:38 UTC

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ROBERT K. MERTON Harvard University

T HERE persists a notable tendency in sociological theory to attribute the malfunctioning of social structure primarily to those of man’s imperious biological drives which are not adequately restrained by

social control. In this view, the social order is solely a device for “impulse management” and the “social processing” of tensions. These impulses which break through social control, be it noted, are held to be biologically derived. Nonconformity is assumed to be rooted in original nature.’ Con- formity is by implication the result of an utilitarian calculus or unreasoned conditioning. This point of view, whatever its other deficiences, clearly begs one question. It provides no basis for determining the nonbiological conditions which induce deviations from prescribed patterns of conduct. In this paper, it will be suggested that certain phases of social structure generate the circumstances in which infringement of social codes constitutes a “normal” response.2

The conceptual scheme to be outlined is designed to provide a coherent, systematic approach to the study of socio-cultural sources of deviate behavior. Our primary aim lies in discovering how some social structures exert a definite pressure upon certain persons in the society to engage in nonconformist rather than conformist conduct. The many ramifications of the scheme cannot all be discussed; the problems mentioned outnumber those explicitly treated.

Among the elements of social and cultural structure, two are important for our purposes. These are analytically separable although they merge imperceptibly in concrete situations. The first consists of culturally defined goals, purposes, and interests. It comprises a frame of aspirational refer- ence. These goals are more or less integrated and involve varying degrees of prestige and sentiment. They constitute a basic, but not the exclusive, component of what Linton aptly has called “designs for group living.” Some of these cultural aspirations are related to the original drives of man, but they are not determined by them. The second phase of the social

1 E.g., Ernest Jones, Social Aspects of Psychoanalysis, 28, London, I924. If the Freudian notion is a variety of the “original sin” dogma, then the interpretation advanced in this paper may be called the doctrine of “socially derived sin.”

2 “Normal” in the sense of a culturally oriented, if not approved, response. This statement does not deny the relevance of biological and personality differences which may be significantly involved in the incidence of deviate conduct. Our focus of interest is the social and cultural matrix; hence we abstract from other factors. It is in this sense, I take it, that James S. Plant speaks of the “normal reaction of normal people to abnormal conditions.” See his Personality and the Cultural Pattern, 248, New York, I 937.


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structure defines, regulates, and controls the acceptable modes of achieving these goals. Every social group invariably couples its scale of desired ends with moral or institutional regulation of permissible and required procedures for attaining these ends. These regulatory norms and moral imperatives do not necessarily coincide with technical or efficiency norms. Many pro- cedures which from the standpoint of particular individuals would be most efficient in securing desired values, e.g., illicit oil-stock schemes, theft, fraud, are ruled out of the institutional area of permitted conduct. The choice of expedients is limited by the institutional norms.

To say that these two elements, culture goals and institutional norms, operate jointly is not to say that the ranges of alternative behaviors and aims bear some constant relation to one another. The emphasis upon certain goals may vary independently of the degree of emphasis upon institutional means. There may develop a disproportionate, at times, a virtually ex- clusive, stress upon the value of specific goals, involving relatively slight concern with the institutionally appropriate modes of attaining these goals. The limiting case in this direction is reached when the range of alternative procedures is limited only by technical rather than institutional considera- tions. Any and all devices which promise attainment of the all important goal would be permitted in this hypothetical polar case.3 This constitutes one type of cultural malintegration. A second polar type is found in groups where activities originally conceived as instrumental are transmuted into ends in themselves. The original purposes are forgotten and ritualistic adherence to institutionallyprescribed conduct becomes virtually obsessive.4 Stability is largely ensured while change is flouted. The range of alternative behaviors is severely limited. There develops a tradition-bound, sacred society characterized by neophobia. The occupational psychosis of the bureaucrat may be cited as a case in point. Finally, there are the inter- mediate types of groups where a balance between culture goals and institu-

3Contemporary American culture has been said to tend in this direction. See Andre Siegfried, America Comes of Age, 26-37, New York, I927. The alleged extreme(?) emphasis on the goals of monetary success and material prosperity leads to dominant concern with technological and social instruments designed to produce the desired result, inasmuch as in- stitutional controls become of secondary importance. In such a situation, innovation flourishes as the range of means employed is broadened. In a sense, then, there occurs the paradoxical emergence of “materialists” from an “idealistic” orientation. Cf. Durkheim’s analysis of the cultural conditions which predispose toward crime and innovation, both of which are aimed toward efficiency, not moral norms. Durkheim was one of the first to see that “contrairement aux idees courantes le criminel n’apparait plus comme un 8tre radicalement insociable, comme une sorte d’element parasitaire, de corps stranger et inassimilable, introduit au sein de la society; c’est un agent regulier de la vie sociale.” See Les Regles de la Methode Sociologique, 86-89, Paris, I927.

4Such ritualism may be associated with a mythology which rationalizes these actions so that they appear to retain their status as means, but the dominant pressure is in the direction of strict ritualistic conformity, irrespective of such rationalizations. In this sense, ritual has proceeded farthest when such rationalizations are not even called forth.

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tional means is maintained. These are the significantly integrated and relatively stable, though changing, groups.

An effective equilibrium between the two phases of the social structure is maintained as long as satisfactions accrue to individuals who conform to both constraints, viz., satisfactions from the achievement of the goals and satisfactions emerging directly from the institutionally canalized modes of striving to attain these ends. Success, in such equilibrated cases, is twofold. Success is reckoned in terms of the product and in terms of the process, in terms of the outcome and in terms of activities. Continuing satisfactions must derive from sheer participation in a competitive order as well as from eclipsing one’s competitors if the order itself is to be sus- tained. The occasional sacrifices involved in institutionalized conduct must be compensated by socialized rewards. The distribution of statuses and roles through competition must be so organized that positive incentives for conformity to roles and adherence to status obligations are provided for every position within the distributive order. Aberrant conduct, there- fore, may be viewed as a symptom of dissociation between culturally defined aspirations and socially structured means.

Of the types of groups which result from the independent variation of the two phases of the social structure, we shall be primarily concerned with the first, namely, that involving a disproportionate accent on goals. This statement must be recast in a proper perspective. In no group is there an absence of regulatory codes governing conduct, yet groups do vary in the degree to which these folkways, mores, and institutional controls are effectively integrated with the more diffuse goals which are part of the culture matrix. Emotional convictions may cluster about the complex of socially acclaimed ends, meanwhile shifting their support from the cultur- ally defined implementation of these ends. As we shall see, certain aspects of the social structure may generate countermores and antisocial behavior precisely because of differential emphases on goals and regulations. In the extreme case, the latter may be so vitiated by the goal-emphasis that the range of behavior is limited only by considerations of technical expediency. The sole significant question then becomes, which available means is most efficient in netting the socially approved value?’ The technically most fea- sible procedure, whether legitimate or not, is preferred to the institutionally prescribed conduct. As this process continues, the integration of the society becomes tenuous and anomie ensues.

5 In this connection, one may see the relevance of Elton Mayo’s paraphrase of the title of Tawney’s well known book. “Actually the problem is not that of the sickness of an acquisitive society; it is that of the acquisitiveness of a sick society.” Human Problems of an Industrial Civilization, I53, New York, I933. Mayo deals with the process through which wealth comes to be a symbol of social achievement. He sees this as arising from a state of anomie. We are considering the unintegrated monetary-success goal as an element in producing anomie. A complete analysis would involve both phases of this system of interdependent variables.

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Thus, in competitive athletics, when the aim of victory is shorn of its institutional trappings and success in contests becomes construed as “win- ning the game” rather than “winning through circumscribed modes of activity,” a premium is implicitly set upon the use of illegitimate but tech- nically efficient means. The star of the opposing football team is surrepti- tiously slugged; the wrestler furtively incapacitates his opponent through ingenious but illicit techniques; university alumni covertly subsidize “students” whose talents are largely confined to the athletic field. The emphasis on the goal has so attenuated the satisfactions deriving from sheer participation in the competitive activity that these satisfactions are virtually confined to a successful outcome. Through the same proc- ess, tension generated by the desire to win in a poker game is relieved by successfully dealing oneself four aces, or, when the cult of success has be- come completely dominant, by sagaciously shuffling the cards in a game of solitaire. The faint twinge of uneasiness in the last instance and the sur- reptious nature of public delicts indicate clearly that the institutional rules of the game are known to those who evade them, but that the emotional supports of these rules are largely vitiated by cultural exaggeration of the success-goal.’ They are microcosmic images of the social macrocosm.

Of course, this process is not restricted to the realm of sport. The process whereby exaltation of the end generates a literal demoralization, i.e., a deinstitutionalization, of the means is one which characterizes many7 groups in which the two phases of the social structure are not highly inte- grated. The extreme emphasis upon the accumulation of wealth as a symbol of success8 in our own society militates against the completely effective control of institutionally regulated modes of acquiring a fortune.9 Fraud, corruption, vice, crime, in short, the entire catalogue of proscribed

6 It is unlikely that interiorized norms are completely eliminated. Whatever residuum persists will induce personality tensions and conflict. The process involves a certain degree of ambivalence. A manifest rejection of the institutional norms is coupled with some latent retention of their emotional correlates. “Guilt feelings,” “sense of sin,” “pangs of conscience” are obvious manifestations of this unrelieved tension; symbolic adherence to the nominally repudiated values or rationalizations constitute a more subtle variety of tensional release.

7 “Many,” and not all, unintegrated groups, for the reason already mentioned. In groups where the primary emphasis shifts to institutional means, i.e., when the range of alternatives is very limited, the outcome is a type of ritualism rather than anomie.

8 Money has several peculiarities which render it particularly apt to become a symbol of prestige divorced from institutional controls. As Simmel emphasized, money is highly abstract and impersonal. However acquired, through fraud or institutionally, it can be used to purchase the same goods and services. The anonymity of metropolitan culture, in conjunction with this peculiarity of money, permits wealth, the sources of which may be unknown to the community in which the plutocrat lives, to serve as a symbol of status.

I The emphasis upon wealth as a success-symbol is possibly reflected in the use of the term “fortune” to refer to a stock of accumulated wealth. This meaning becomes common in the late sixteenth century (Spenser and Shakespeare). A similar usage of the Latinfortuna comes into prominence during the first century B.C. Both these periods were marked by the rise to prestige and power of the “bourgeoisie.”

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behavior, becomes increasingly common when the emphasis on the cultur- ally induced success-goal becomes divorced from a coordinated institutional emphasis. This observation is of crucial theoretical importance in examining the doctrine that antisocial behavior most frequently derives from bio- logical drives breaking through the restraints imposed by society. The difference is one between a strictly utilitarian interpretation which con- ceives man’s ends as random and an analysis which finds these ends deriv- ing from the basic values of the culture.10

Our analysis can scarcely stop at this juncture. We must turn to other aspects of the social structure if we are to deal with the social genesis of the varying rates and types of deviate behavior characteristic of different so- cieties. Thus far, we have sketched three ideal types of social orders con- stituted by distinctive patterns of relations between culture ends and means. Turning from these types of culture patterning, we find five logically possible, alternative modes of adjustment or adaptation by individuals within the culture-bearing society or group.” These are schematically presented in the following table, where (+) signifies “acceptance,” (-) signifies “elimination” and (?) signifies “rejection and substitution of new goals and standards.”

Culture Goals Institutionalized Means I. Conformity + + II. Innovation + III. Ritualism + IV. Retreatism

V. Rebellion’2 + +

Our discussion of the relation between these alternative responses and other phases of the social structure must be prefaced by the observation that persons may shift from one alternative to another as they engage in different social activities. These categories refer to role adjustments in specific situations, not to personality in toto. To treat the development of this process in various spheres of conduct would introduce a complexity unmanageable within the confines of this paper. For this reason, we shall be concerned primarily with economic activity in the broad sense, “the

10 See Kingsley Davis, “Mental Hygiene and the Class Structure,” Psychiatry, i928, I, esp. 62-63; Talcott Parsons, The Structure of Social Action, 59-60, New York, I937.

11 This is a level intermediate between the two planes distinguished by Edward Sapir; namely, culture patterns and personal habit systems. See his “Contribution of Psychiatry to an Understanding of Behavior in Society,” Amer. 7. Sociol., I937, 42: 862-70.

12 This fifth alternative is on a plane clearly different from that of the others. It represents a transitionalresponse which seeks to institutionalize new procedures oriented toward revamped cultural goals shared by the members of the society. It thus involves efforts to change the existing structure rather than to perform accommodative actions within this structure, and introduces additional problems with which we are not at the moment concerned.

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production, exchange, distribution and consumption of goods and serv- ices” in our competitive society, wherein wealth has taken on a highly symbolic cast. Our task is to search out some of the factors which exert pressure upon individuals to engage in certain of these logically possible

alternative responses. This choice, as we shall see, is far from random. In every society, Adaptation I (conformity to both culture goalsand

means) is the most common and widely diffused. Were this not so, the stability and continuity of the society could not be maintained. The mesh of expectancies which constitutes every social order is sustained by the modal behavior of its members falling within the first category. Conven-

tional role behavior oriented toward the basic values of the group is the rule rather than the exception. It is this fact alone which permits us to

speak of a human aggregate as comprising a group or society. Conversely, Adaptation IV (rejection of goals and means) is the least

common. Persons who “adjust” (or maladjust) in this fashion are, strictly speaking, in the society but not of it. Sociologically, these constitute the true “aliens.” Not sharing the common frame of orientation, they can be included within the societal population merely in a fictional sense. In this category ar

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