Thank God Sociology class is over. My professor just rambled on about something called Strain Theory. He went on and on about Robert Merton. I think he's in love with Robert Merton. He came in and drew this ridiculous chart on the board with plus and minus signs. I could barely see it. There's a bunch of categories that don't make a lot of sense. Something about bank robbers being innovators. Whatever. I stopped listening after ten minutes. At the end of class he gave a speech about how the categories probably aren't the most important part of the theory. And that we shouldn't get too consumed about plus and minus signs. So why did he spend the entire class working on that idiotic chart? He finished his speech by saying the crucial part of the theory is thinking about the disjunction between cultural goals and approved means for obtaining those goals. He said Merton was interested in how people responded to the pressure of not being able to obtain the cultural goals. That everyone is aware of the goals, but sometimes lack of opportunities or resources make it impossible to obtain those goals. That creates strain, and strain produces deviance. He mentioned that some people respond by scaling down the goals or rejecting them altogether. Okay, all of that made sense. He got my attention with his little speech. So why did he wait until the end of class to say that? And why didn't he let us talk about it?
If I was teaching Strain Theory I would focus attention on the cultural goals and the acceptable ways to achieve the goals. And then I would get into the categories and have students give some of their own examples. And then I would have students write a story about one of the categories. For example, they could write a story about someone who took the path of ritualism or retreatism. Or they could write a story about someone who didn't take a deviant path. So they could write about someone who stayed on the socially acceptable road. That would be a fun class, and we would all learn more in the process.
Author's note: I wrote this story after thinking about what it must be like for students to listen to someone teach Strain Theory in a traditional, linear, textbook fashion. I doubt students love strain theory as much as we do. Don't be afraid to teach Strain Theory in an alternative way. The textbook presentation of Strain Theory is typically stale. So it's up to us to bring it alive.