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Examine the role of access to opportunity structures in causing crime and deviance (12 marks)

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Introduction

Examine the role of access to opportunity structures in causing crime and deviance (12 marks) Opportunity structures can be described as a factor, situation or pathway which can lead towards or away from deviant or criminal behaviour, for example if someone does not gain access to the legitimate opportunity structure of education to achieve goals they may look to other, illegitimate opportunities and which can lead to them committing crime or engaging in deviant behaviour. One theory that supports the role of access to opportunity structures in causing crime and deviance is, arguing that unequal access to legitimate opportunity structures is the cause of this behaviour is Merton's Strain Theory. Merton's 'Strain theory and anomie' argues that deviance arises from the structure of society. He has developed the functionalist theory of deviance to attempt to explain why deviance occurs in the first place. He argues that people engage in deviant behaviour because they are unable to achieve socially approved goals by legitimate means. Most people share goals - for example, financial success, having their own home and possessing consumer goods - and most conform to the approved means of achieving them, like working in paid employment. However, in an unequal society, Merton argues that not all individuals have the same opportunity of realising these goals by approved means. ...read more.

Middle

However, Merton's strain theory can be criticised because it focuses on individual responses to limited access to opportunity structures or access to illegitimate opportunity structures and doesn't recognise that there is a social pattern of crime and deviance affecting whole groups of people, linked to social class, age, gender, ethnicity and locality, and not all of these people are subjected to the same opportunity structures. Strain theory also fails to explain why some people who are exposed to illegitimate opportunity structures do not take advantage of them and turn towards crime and deviant behaviour, or why people who have access to positive opportunity structures within a society and appear to be apparently conforming people in society can actually be 'innovators' in illegal activities, such as white-collar and corporate crime. Subcultural theories, such as the status frustration theory proposed by Cohen (1971) focus on the position of groups and their opportunity structures rather than just on individuals, and how these groups adapt in different ways to the strain facing them in achieving social goals. Cohen argues that working-class youth believe in the success goals of mainstream culture, but their experiences of failure in education, living in deprived areas and having the worst chances in the job market all mean they have little access to legitimate opportunity structures to attain these goals by approved means. ...read more.

Conclusion

Conflict subcultures are characterised by violence, gang warfare, 'mugging' and other street crime. Both approved and illegal means of achieving mainstream goals are blocked or limited and young people express their frustration at this situation through violence or street crime, and at least obtain status through success in subcultural peer-group values, such as those that Cohen's status frustration theory recognises. 3. Retreatist subcultures emerge among those lower-class youth who are 'double failures' = they have failed to succeed both through the mainstream legitimate opportunity structures and in the crime and gang illegitimate opportunity structures. The response is a retreat into drug addiction and alcoholism, paid for by petty theft, shoplifting and prostitution. This theory therefore shows how even in illegitimate opportunity structures, unequal opportunities arise which causes the 3 different types of subcultures. These theories all provide evidence for the role of opportunity structures in causing crime and deviance, being the unequal access to legitimate structures and the access of illegitimate structures leading towards criminal and deviant behaviour. However, it can be argued that access to opportunity structures do not fully explain causes for all deviant behaviours and cannot be seen to play the full role in deviant and criminal behaviour. These theories do not provide reasoning for individuals who are exposed only to legitimate opportunity structures yet still engage in deviant and criminal behaviour. Therefore, there must be other factors also contributing to the role of these behaviours, but the role of opportunity structures can be seen to contribute largely to causing criminal and deviant behaviour. ...read more.

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