Many individuals in today’s society wonder what pushes people past a breaking point in which they become involved in actions not accepted by society, such as stripping, prostitution, drug use, alcoholism and more. The reasoning behind this is deviance. Deviance can be either positive (over conforming) or negative (under conforming). When applying the subject of crime to a type of deviance, it falls under the negative category because those who under conform in society have a tendency to reach their goals with non-accepted means. Considering the crime of drunk driving, many factors add up to develop a reason why so many people do it. Merton’s strain theory perspective explains the deviance behind drunk driving very well, using its’ assumptions, key focuses, and root of deviant acts to support it. Before focusing on Merton’s theory relating to the crime of drunk driving, we first have to recognize how sociologists understand the concept of deviance.
Sociologists believe that deviance is the result of unsuccessful socialization. With this being said, it makes sense that deviance surrounds us because not everyone can be perfectly socialized to fit in civilization’s cookie cutter image. Those who cannot fit in tend to become deviant, where they then violate the norms of society. Once those norms are violated, they are labeled as deviant and will continue to become more deviant as others define them that way. Sociologists also believe that the causes of deviance with crime is structural and that the solutions of deviance aim at changing the mind of the individual. In addition to this, sociologists process deviance as relative, variable, contested, and derived out of social norms.
The circumstances that influence whether an act is considered deviant or not is an important concept, as well as the relationship between norms and deviance. There are three circumstances that influence when an act is considered deviant. The first act is the social status and power of the individuals involved, so if one is socially acceptable in society, they are less likely to be considered deviant. The second circumstance is the social context in which the behavior occurs. If someone were to behave a way, where it is conventional and society will not give a second thought to, that behavior will not label someone as deviant. The last circumstance is the historical period in which the behavior takes place. This goes hand in hand with the relationship between deviance and norms. Norms determine whether behavior is considered deviant or normal. The behaviors that are considered deviant vary greatly, from group to group, society to society, and from time to time. Deviance can also vary through being either positive or negative. Positive deviance is a result of over conforming, and the consequences include increases in social unity, helps clarify norms, offers a safety value, and brings about needed social change. Unlike positive deviance, negative deviance is the result of under conforming, and can have serious consequences such as eroding trust, encouraging social disorder, encouraging further nonconformity in others, and diverting recourses from other social needs. Merton’s strain theory perspective coincides with the negative consequences of deviance greatly, which why understanding this perspective’s assumptions, key focuses, and the root of its’ deviant acts are vitally important to applying this theory to the crime of drunk driving.
To truly appreciate the overview of Merton’s strain theory perspective, one first has to look into his original assumptions of the theory. Merton based this theory off the concept of anomie. Anomie is a situation in which people do not experience the constraint of social norms, either because there are no norms in place or because they do not know the expected norms. The concept of anomie tends to occur when the norms of society do not match its social structure, which then results in strain. If someone does know the expected norms of society, they are oblivious to what is considered right or wrong, which can eventually get them into trouble such as crime. Merton’s strain theory perspective has two components that comprises its’ key focuses: accepted goals and accepted means. The best way to explain accepted goals and means is when they are used in context. According to Merton, in a well-structured society, the people will be able to reach goals by following socially acceptable means, if everyone can understand what the goals are. If not everyone understands the goals, then there tends to be a significant gap in society, also called a disjuncture. Disjunction is the root of deviant acts, because it places a substantial break between goals and legitimate means. When there is a disjuncture between socially approved goals and means, deviance is sure to follow.
There are multiple different responses to disjuncture and anomie when relating to goals and means. These responses can include conformity, innovation, ritualism, retreatism, and rebellion. While all these responses have their likes and differences, let us focus on innovation. Innovation is what Merton called the first mode of adaptation that is obviously deviant. Those who result in innovation (innovators) pursue and accept goals of society but, when confronted with a lack of legitimate means, devise new means. Innovators have a tendency to accept the cultural goals but reject the legitimate means for achieving the goal. Innovation goes hand in hand with crime, specifically the crime of drunk driving.
Applying Merton’s strain theory to innovation and the crime drunk driving works well because if one pursues to reach an accepted goal but cannot achieve it, they have to find another way to accomplish their goal. In the instance of drunk driving, one pursues the accepted goal of getting to point A to point B, but has no legitimate access to a ride. This circumstance leaves intoxicated people in an awkward situation of indecisiveness. They are indecisive because they do not have legitimate means to a ride to get them home safely. Denial, fear, and apathy are the three main reasons why an intoxicated individual may not have legitimate means to a ride. Denial is an example of Merton’s strain theory applying t drunk driving because drunk people may not realize how drunk they are. These people believe and tell themselves that they are fine and are perfectly capable of driving because they do not have another ride that is easily accessible, when in reality they are too drunk to drive. The second example that relates is fear. This example mainly applies to underage drinkers who are too afraid to call for help. Underage drinkers (or anyone who should not be drinking) will not ask their parents or any source of public safety for help because of the fear of being caught. They believe that it is not worth getting in trouble by asking for a ride when they think they can just drive themselves home. The third and last example is apathy, people not caring or knowing of the situation. Some people in this situation may not concern at all about themselves or others so that is why they decide to drive drunk. Other people may be unaware of the situation at hand and not know the risks of drunk driving. These three examples show how well strain theory can affect a person, especially in the instance of drunk driving.
Merton’s strain theory perspective clearly explains the deviance behind drunk driving. Referencing the examples provided in the previous paragraphs, there is plenty of strong evidence backing up this theory. The strain theory does not seem to leave anything out when relating it to the crime of drunk driving, because it explains the relationship between expected goals and accepted means, while also connecting the root of deviance, disjunction, and the type of deviance, innovation.
Overall, the concept of deviance is easily connected to many actions people encounter today, since deviance is the result of unsuccessful socialization. Deviance is derived out of social norms, where a deviant act is a violation of norms. Merton’s strain theory perspective represents how well deviance takes place in our day-to-day lives, such as drunk driving. Merton explains how having a disjunction can lead to deviance, because there is significant gap between accepted goals and legitimate means. With drunk driving, the goal was getting from point A to point B, but having no legitimate access to a ride. The reason concluded behind the deviant act of drunk driving was three examples: denial, fear, and apathy. Explaining the thought process of those who involve themselves with deviant acts explains how often deviance happens all around society, which is more often than we think. The root of deviance may be disjunction, but in my opinion, deviance is the root of all evils.