Strain Theory

There are many theories that seek to explain what causes crime to occur and what motivates individuals to engage in criminal or deviant behavior. One such theory is strain theory, which contends, "crime and criminal behavior is…essentially social phenomenon" (Arrigo, 2006, p. 57). As such, strain theory must look at society as a whole in order to determine what causes deviant behavior; however, just as strain theory seeks to explain the causes of crime, there are also limitations that are imposed upon the theory.

"Strain theory seeks to integrate the cultural context in which crime occurs…with the social mechanisms that teach one how to act criminally" (Arrigo, 2006, p. 56). Robert Merton helped to define the factors that lead to strain. Merton (1968) believes that at the center of social organizations are strains, tensions, and contradictions that are "generated by society itself; they do not reside within the...
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