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

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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. This means they face a sense of strain and anomie (normlessness), as the dominant rules about how to achieve success don’t meet their needs, and therefore deviance results from unequal access to legitimate opportunities (such as education and careers which can be seen as opportunity structures).

Merton argues that there are different ‘modes of adaptation’, or responses to situations, that range from conformity that most people to display, to one of four forms of deviance, which he calls Innovation, Ritualism, Retreatism and Rebellion.

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A non-deviant, non-criminal conformist citizen would take the conformity mode of adaptation where they accept the means and goals of society. The first form of deviance, known as the Innovation mode of adaptation, typically occurs when factors like poor education qualifications or unemployment mean that some people can’t achieve goals by approved means or opportunity structures, so they turn to crime as an alternative. The second mode of adaptation, known as Ritualism, typically occurs when someone gives up on achieving goals, but they stick to the means of society. For example, a teacher may give up caring about student success ...

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