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The study of criminology is related to criminal and penal institutions (Sykes, 1974). Criminology is that branch of criminal science which deals the searching the cause of crime, analysis and prevention of crime (Hagen, 2012). Theories of crime try to find the answer to the question- why does a crime occur and what inspire people to do such illegal acts?

Contrast of Durkheim's concept of anomie with the development by Merton

French sociologist Durkheim put much impact on criminology. Durkheim developed the hypothesis that behaviour of criminals is normal part existed in all society and no society can ever be completed without similarly of moral consciousness (Bursik, 1988). In each society, some deviancy must be allowed including criminal deviancy. He looked towards criminal as an acceptable individual and one of the prices which a society has to pay for freedom.

Durkheim theorised the way by which modern and industrial society can be distinguished from non-industrial societies. He called industrial societies as collective conscience which controls the individual behaviour in an effective manner (Hagen, 2012). Individuals in industrial society display anomie. It is a Greek word which meant "without norms". As a result, modern societies now bound to develop specialised criminal justice system and laws which were not relevant in ancient society for controlling behaviour.

In contrast, Robert Merton (1908) explains the breakdown of social conditions due to bad economic conditions, is the cause of criminal behaviour. He dismissed the idea that crime is an individual and intrinsic behaviour. He goes beyond the personal milieu of the criminals to the larger context of social structure and anomie to explain criminal behaviour. Merton took the concept of anomie from Durkheim (Cohen, 1965).

Anomie is a condition which occurs when no rules control the behaviour of the people and people are not clear about any norms. When there are no rules prevalent, it results in a situation where no control on aspirations and behaviour exist (Costello, 1997). Merton holds that anomie exists in a social set up especially where unequal opportunity and more stress on material success exists and he claimed that anomie can describe a large range of socially abnormal behaviour. Merton suggests that society set up institutionalised goals which are normally taken to be the financial success which society stresses and strengthens. To achieve the institutionalised goals, socially structured methods naming means are used. When the goals are given more importance and admired more but the means to obtain them are not available to a larger part of that population then anomie is possible. It denotes that success is hindered by the unavailability of the means and experience of individuals feel the strain and display two types of reactions. Either they have to look for an alternative route or adjust their hope downwards to achieve goals. Such kind of environment abnormal behaviour is all over the place. Merton provides five modes which are adopted by people to obtain goals such as Innovation, Conformity, Rebellion, Retreatism, and Ritualism (Mruphy, 2008).

Merton developed strain perspective. This theory focuses on crime which occurs at the lower level of socioeconomic strata and ignores crime committed by upper and middle-class people. Whatever be the structure of society, each set goals for its member (Sykes, 1974). Not only society in united states where society aspire for prestige and wealth yet people in some other culture also have limited resources for achieving goals but they do not have high crime rates. Switzerland and Japan are two such societies which are most industrialised and developed in the world. Though the United States has many things common with them but differs in the low crime rate. Many critical assessments of strain theory and formulation of anomie by Merton have had a huge influence on the contemporary criminology (Cohen, 1965).

Contributions of feminist approach to the explanation of crime and gender

The feminist approach to crime stresses upon the supplementary position of women in society. Feminist criminology suggests that women exist in an inferior position which is not fully reformed by changes in the law that took place during the late twentieth century. A feminist approach to crime looks towards ways in which criminal behaviour of women came to picture due to their treatment as commodities in the sex industry (Leiber, 1989).

The feminist approach towards criminology focuses on criminal activities which took place due to gender inequalities. These are societal institutions which encourage the patriarchal society where privileges and rights of males are considered superior to males. Girl child is not treated equally with male child and always taught to remain silent or not to speak up before elders. Feminist approach emphasis on male-female inequalities which occurs due to differences in power due to race, age and class as females were never trained or given any type of freedom to think beyond family matters. The continuous ignorance and insulting attitude of male members of a family towards other female members of the family have a huge impact and some female take it as a challenge to do any wrongful act to get their dignity in the family. Gender discrimination arising due to the bad attitude of the male population towards female causes their fairer counterpart to take arms into hands (Makkai, 1991).

Empirical validity of feminist approach to crime

Prediction: The fairer class are given less power and treated badly by the social system

Evidence: Most proof suggests equal treatment by males who experience harsher treatment

Explanation: Paternalism and Chivalry serving to maintain inferior roles by women (Hagen, 2012)

Status and Paternalism offences

Increased proportion of females than males are taken to juvenile court and imprisoned for offences in status such as malingering and eloping. Girls are treated more badly for their minor offences as a system itself sexualizes their act as a threat to sex-role outlook (Makkai, 1991).

Mawby and Walklate (1994) were inspired by the feminist approach. It was not directly related to criminal victimisation but feminism highlighted the relevance of ignored issues such as domestic violence, sexual harassment, and rape and child abuse. It brought attention to an extra pervasive mechanism, patriarchy that is similar to the social class which assists in shaping both the pattern and process of victimisation and also our willingness or ability to recognise them for what they are. Like gender, races also reflected in the process of victimisation and have its impact on social attitude (Costello, 1997).

The feminist approach also explains why youth crime is committed by young men disproportionately. Many suggested that masculinity idea makes young men possibly to offend. Young men show tough, daring, aggressive and powerful attitude display their masculinity. Due to these attitudes, young men are involved in more criminal behaviour and antisocial activities (Mruphy, 2008).

Young men are likely to act without thinking much and this would mean they do not have regard to long-term consequences of their acts, suffers from the lack of self-control and inability to delay immediate satisfaction. Impulsiveness is considered as the key aspect of the personality of a child which anticipates offending (Bursik, 1988).

Comparison of the contributions of traditional anomie theorists with the contemporary strain theories

Robert Merton gave two differentiated theories in the seminal explorations on the anomie and social structure paradigm-an anomie theory and a strain theory. The traditional strain theory one-sided focus in the secondary literature has restrained the power and effectiveness of contemporary anomie theory of Merton unnecessarily. Though contemporary strain theory is one way to describe why deviance takes place in the context of anomie, there are other ways too. The critics of strain theory should not discard anomie theory of Merton because anomie perspective is compatible with many other theories of delinquency and crime (Leiber, 1989).

Traditional anomie theory was given by Durkheim and his idea of anomie was changed before American sociology (Hagen, 2012). Durkheim argues that particular feature of industry society in the phase of economic activity create a chronic state of normative deregulation. Consequently, value goals are not conceived properly and the society cannot provide people limits on their desires. Thus Merton essay on Social Structure and anomie clearly defined social values in the mainstream egalitarian ideology and emphasises on monetary success. Merton stresses on the lack of equilibrium on the culture level between social defined means and ends. Anomie occurs when cultural goals are overstressed at the cost of institutionalised means. Merton defines anomie as formless which regulate goal achievement and Durkheim refers it as those norms which control goals (Agnew, 1999).

Merton establishes a theoretical framework for defining crime rates which differed from the Chicago school of the criminologist. Social disorganisation theory holds that the denial of conventional middle-class values results in higher crime rates in urban slum communities. In contrast, Merton argues that it was the strict adherence to the traditional American value which causes higher rates of deviance and crime. He believed that general conformity of American culture in general and obsession of American with economic success particularly created a higher level of serious crime (Mazerolle, 1994).

Merton defined anomie as the weakening of cultural norms. He adopted anomie based upon the reference of Durkheim to the weak normative order in society and held differently and how institutionalised social rules may lose their potential to control individual behaviour (Cohen, 1965). Merton observed that institutionalised norms will reduce the impact and anomie will start, in societies that hold a higher value on economic success. When it occurs, the following of success will not require any guidance by normative standards of right and wrong.

Merton observed that there were many ways in which individual may use strains brought by the inefficiency to secure pecuniary success and not all of these use are deviant. He proposed there were many adaptations which are possible to be used in the social system which has blocked opportunities and anomie. (Cohen, 1965)These adaptations are ritualism, where goals are discarded but the legal means are taken care of; innovation, where goals are taken care of but legal means are discarded; retreatism, where goals and means both are eliminated; rebellion, where both means and goals are rejected and a new structure is proposed. The fifth one is conformity, where goals are taken care of and pursue along with the legal means.

Click to Read More About Theories of Criminology, Victimology and Victimization.

Comparison and contrast of the major subculture theories of delinquency

Subculture theories are those which evaluate the actions and behaviour of various groups culminate in a society. These groups do not accept and reject traditional views and norms of the majority. These groups were called as subcultures and subcultural theories try to explain why these subcultural groups mostly gang delinquency and youth gangs involve in deviant acts (Mruphy, 2008).

Subculture theories of delinquency

Subculture theories emerged from the classroom of the Sociology department of the University of Chicago. Henry McKay and Clifford Shaw studies the crime rate among juveniles in Chicago and calculated delinquency rates. They found out higher crime rate in central part of the city and reducing rates towards the outskirts of the city. It was also noted that lower delinquency was observed in the higher economic status areas and higher in low economic status areas (Agnew, 1999).

It was drawn that delinquency generating factors are an integral part of the community and transmitted culturally. The transmitted culture is social disorganisation which is inconsistencies of attitudes, values and standards of behaviour. There is uniformity of morals and attitudes and consistencies exist in the middle-class people while there is the absence of common values on the low economic status (Mazerolle, 1994).

Differential Association Theory

Edwin Sutherland and Donald Cressey developed differential association theory. This theory says that abnormal and criminal behaviour is learned behaviour in similarly with other behaviours which are learned. It suggests that an individual has more chances to become a criminal if they are more exposed to conditions favourable to violations of law over conditions which are not unfavourable to law violation (Hagen, 2012). The major learning took place with personal intimate groups and which put emphasis on the relevant of the family, friends and peer group.

Delinquent subculture remains among juveniles who commit a crime. Many sections of youth feel neglected by society and this occurs due to strain and tension in handling the paradoxical different form of schooling. Those youth who cannot resist the strain and suffer from status deprivation and look for a collective delinquent subculture to solve the problem. Agnew (1999) has suggested that crime occurs due to limited legal and blocked opportunities and type of criminal behaviour depend on the personal peer group. Three types of the subculture are seen such as conflict, criminal and retreats.

Subcultural theory of delinquency is related to strain theory developed by Robert Merton. The youth inability to get their goals fulfilled and social target achieved among the group of young people create abnormal or delinquent subcultures having their own norms and values. In these groups, criminal behaviour develops in youth as increase the status of youth in the particular subculture (Hagen, 2012). The idea of delinquent subcultures is significant of such crimes which are not economically inspired. Male members of the gang would have their own values such as respect and daringness for fighting ability. It makes them different from common non-law-breaking young men. No explanation is satisfactory on why young people are unable to obtain socially valued goals should essentially choose criminal paths. Subcultural theories have critically analysed to make a clear distinction between what is abnormal and what is normal (Sykes, 1974).

Comparison of the conflict perspective and its critical criminology

Critical criminology is a wider term for several criminologist theories and perspectives which challenge basic assumptions of conventional criminology in a significant way and provide a different approach to understanding crime and its control. Conventional criminology is referred by many critical criminologists as managerial, administrative, establishment, positivistic criminology (Makkai, 1991). The focus of this theory is considered as very narrow and mainly directed towards street crime, individual offenders and social engineering on behalf of the state.

Critical criminology is both school and theory that believe that crime is a result of social inequalities existed in the society. This perspective critically analyses why certain behaviours are considered as criminal while others are not considered as such. Certain behaviours are a crime because some people have the potential to make them criminal (Hagen, 2012).

They forgo the idea that deviance is assessed by factors such as anomie, personality, biology, labelling but they argue that people knowingly involve in deviant behaviour due to the inequalities existed in the capitalist system. Critical criminology theorist made their analysis within the protection of the power and structure of the power of the ruling class (Sykes, 1974).

The imbalance of the society is not bound to the creation of laws. The powerful people also break the law but they are hardly caught or monitored. Their crimes are harsher and delinquency draws more attention.

Critical criminology believes that crime took place at all strata of the society and it must be understood in the context of competing interests and inequalities. Critical criminology follows conflict perspective such as feminism, Marxism, and critical theory or postmodern critical theory. All these perspectives suggest the matter of crime can be solved if these power structures are changed (Bursik, 1988).

Feminist criminology

The primary objective for occurring feminist theory was the critiques. Customary criminology was not sufficient for working on the criminal behaviour of women and gender differences. So the main point of feminist approach is criticising the ignorance of customary criminology on the topics which are unrelated to the criminality of women (Hagen, 2012).

Conflict theory

According to Marxist theory, legislation backs the interests of affluent people. Marx did not analyse crime in society and he had a belief that it was necessary to human nature that individuals need to be productive in work and in life. But in the capitalist society, a large number of people remain unemployed. As these people are not productive, they become demoralised and commit different kinds of crimes. This theory does not take crime as the voluntary violation of the common good (Cohen, 1965).

Many people live in the street and make drug-sellers, a prostitute. Leiber (1989) claimed that these people are not bad but they are weak ones. But these people are regarded as more criminal than those who damage the environment for their interests. The capitalist has respect for the authority so students who drop school or do not go to school are seen as deviant people and criminal. In the capitalist system, functions are done by working-class and due to these connections those people who do not work are seen as criminal (Sykes, 1974).


There are many criminology theories which describe the concept of anomie and strain. A feminist approach to crime and gender reflect a different perspective of criminology while conflict perspective of criminology assesses a critical aspect of criminology.

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References and Books for Further study on Criminology Theories

Agnew, R. (1999). A General Strain Theory of Community Differences in Crime Rates. Sage journals, 123-155.


Cohen, A. K. (1965). The Sociology of the Deviant Act: Anomie Theory and Beyond. American Sociological Review, 5-14.

Costello. (1997). On the Logical Adequacy of Cultural Deviance Theories. THEORETICAL CRIMINOLOGY, 403-428.

Hagen, F. E. (2012). Introduction to Criminology: Theories, Methods, and Criminal Behavior. London: sage publications.

Leiber, M. F. (1989). Strain Theory Revisited: Economic Goals, Educational Means, and Delinquency. American Sociological Review, 263-274.


Mazerolle, R. P. (1994). General Strain Theory and Delinquency: A Replication and Extension. sage journals, 235-263.

Mruphy, D. S. (2008). The Maximizer: Clarifying Merton's theories of anomie and strain. THEORETICAL CRIMINOLOGY, 501-521.

Sykes, G. M. (1974). Rise of Critical Criminology. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 65.

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