Social Strain Theory Of Crime Essays Example

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Sociology, Theory, Criminology, Life, Social Issues, People, Society, Crime

Pages: 3

Words: 825

Published: 2021/02/02


In the plethora of different criminological theories, social strain theory occupies a special place as the most substantiated one (Akers, 2000). Indeed, a popular opinion among the scholars is that this theoretical framework is the best tool for explaining why people engage in crime (Reid, 2000, Siegel, 2014). Analyzing the verdicts of many notorious criminals, it can be summarized that the main causes of their delinquent actions are somehow attributed to inequality of the society. The rapists commit their barbaric acts because of inability to find a consensual partner; the robbers use violence to obtain financial gain, when other legitimate methods fail. The most prolific explorers of this approach Robert Agnew, Robert King Merton, and Albert Cohen inferred that all other theoretical frameworks (biological, psychological and others) originate from the foundations of the social strain theory.
The objective of this paper speculates about the concept of social strain theory, to discuss persuasiveness and academic of this framework and to conclude on its efficiency for the needs of contemporary criminology.

Social Strain Theory Underpinnings

Theoreticians, as well as criminal law practitioners argue that the core point of social strain theory lies in the assumption that specific social structures within a definite societal group pressure the members of the society to get engaged in delinquent activities (Agnew, 1992). Social strains can be classified into two major types. The first one is structural. It refers to the processes which happened at the societal level. In practice, they "filter down" how a specific individual understands his physiological, social and other necessities and what is the effect of an inadequately established social regulation in this regard (Agnew, 1992(. In other words, it seeks to explain that while equality among the people is assumed, currently the way resources and means are allocated to the people make legitimate accomplishment of these necessities impossible (Reid, 2000). Secondly, on the individual level a person experiences some sort frictions and pains on his or her way to satisfy these needs. As a result, as a result, an objective may become more important, than the means of achieving it (Agnew, 1992).
Further classification of strains includes differential values, reality vs. aspiration, the concept of relative deprivation, and deficient coping approach. The first one deals with the situation when an individual experiences the conflict of different social values. For instance, the first wave of immigrants to the United States of America committed many crimes, because societal norms and values within their ethical communities superseded behavioral rules of the local community (e.g. breaking a relationship with a lady was normal for the local US citizens, while it was regarded as a cultural abnormality for the large Irish community. Vengeance from the brothers and other main relatives to the infidel lovers became widespread (Siegel, 2014)).
Secondly, in reality vs. aspiration type of strain a person experiences some sort of discomfort as a result of a discrepancy between his aspirations and the reality he faces. The achievement of the one's brilliant personal objective may be seriously inhibited by the realities. If they reality becomes very far from his/her expectations and aspirations, a person may become prone to the use of violence or other legitimate methods of making his dream a reality. Thirdly, relative deprivation strain is one of the most popular motives of delinquent behavior nowadays. It refers to the situation, when an extremely financially poor citizen realizes, that the people of similar background obtained significantly better life standards. To be more specific, those living absolute poverty, i.e. when there is no possibility to make any comparisons do not feel deprived in any way. However, when such a person realizes that someone leads a better life, the circumstances start pressing him to reach better living standards (Akers, 2000). It includes situations when the young people from rural communities arrive at the cities in search of employment prospects. When they receive positions with extremely low wages (in accordance with the qualifications), and no other means of achieving the citizens' level of living are available to them, many of them choose criminal path to becoming equal financially to the dwellers of the cities.
Finally, deficient coping approach refers to the cases, when individuals are not able to cope with specific life difficulties. The main conflicts in this regard are individuals coping capacity and a life crisis (Agnew, 1992). For instance, the risk of bankruptcy pushed many reputable business people into the illegal world of smuggling alcohol during the Prohibition Age.
Social strain theory is more detailed and suited to the needs of criminological practice than biological or psychological theories. To be more specific, while the social theory approach is practically applicable to any situation, other criminological theories are more individually focused. In other words, social strain approaches can be applied to explain the reasons of crime almost in any situation while biological or psychological frameworks are usually applied to clarify the reasons for specific crimes only.
One of the best examples of social strain theory in work is the biography of the infamous Australian bushman David “Ned” Kelly. He had an ordinary life before the conflict with the local authorities left his family impoverished. No legal means of returning his fortune were available, and together with his associates he started robbing banks and wealthy citizens.


Despite the fact that many controversies are inherent to social strain theory, nowadays it is the most powerful solution for explaining the reasons for criminally delinquent behavior. The main task for the law enforcement officers is to identify the conflicts within the societal groups. This conflict is always present in any crime.
In contrast to other popular criminological approaches, the social strain theory can be used to clarify the reasons for almost any criminal deed while biological and psychological approaches are valid only in individual cases.


Agnew, R. (1992). "Foundation for a General Strain Theory." Criminology 30(1), 47-87
Akers, R. (2000). Criminological theories: Introduction, evaluation, and application. Los Angeles: Roxbury.
Reid, S. (2009). Crime and criminology. New York: Oxford University Press.
Siegel, L. (2014). Criminology: the core. Australia: Wadsworth.

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