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Agnew's Strain Theory

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Agnew's Strain Theory

The general strain theory, created by Robert Agnew, was an explanation of why individuals respond to stress and strain with crime. Also the general strain theory also states that strain leads to delinquency. Strain is a result of failure to succeed at the goals set by society. Success is based upon fame and wealth, when individuals failed to achieve certain goals they experienced strain, which can lead to frustration and depression. People often compare themselves to friends or peers who make more money and have larger houses. Known as disjunction of expectations and achievements people often get stressed out when they see others with nicer things even if they are well off. The loss or removal of positively valued stimuli such as loss of a girlfriend or death of a close family member can result in strain. Also the presentation of negative stimuli produces strain in people. Negative or noxious stimuli include child abuse, neglect, physical punishment, and school failure can all lead to strain (Siegel, 2003).

According to the general strain theory, strain can often cause negative emotions such as anger, depression, and frustration. When anger is the result of strain, deviant responses including retaliatory, instrumental, or escapist behavior are more probable (Capowich et al., 2001). However it is important to note that Agnew's strain theory allows for other responses to strain that are not criminal or deviant. "Only some strained individuals turn to delinquency"(Agnew, 1992:66). The general strain theory states that the response to strain is dependent on the nature, intensity and the duration of the strain. The theory also went on to say that each individual has several mechanisms for coping with strain at their disposal. Many people respond to strain in non-deviant ways at first but after these methods fail, they adopt illegitimate coping strategies (Broidy, 2001). Overall the general strain predicts that prolonged exposure to strain will produce adverse effects in individuals.

Several historical developments in criminology led to the creation of the general strain theory by Agnew. In 1957 Merton developed the anomie theory that stated that a shortage of legitimate means to achieve goals set by society encouraged the use of illegitimate means or individuals lowered their goals (Teevan et al., 2000). The origins of Merton's theory can be traced back to Emile Durkheim's theories of anomie. Anomie is from the Greek word a nomos that means without norms (Siegal, 2000). When a society is devoid of social norms, society is unable to control humans and their means of obtaining goals.

Cohen's theory in 1955 stated that an inability to do well in school lead to delinquency or rebellion. This failure in school was often due to insufficient means of the student. Bloch and Niederhoffer's 1958 proposed delinquency was a reflection of boys' needs to show their masculinity and maturity in a society that labels them as children. Also Lemert theorized that punishment and isolation of delinquents results in fewer options that created more delinquency. There was also an opposing theory that said punishment reduced delinquency. Agnew used all of these theories and combined them when he developed is General Strain Theory in 1990 (Teevan et al., 2000).

Also considered in his theory, Agnew looked at the relative deprivation theory that stated that lower class people in run-down neighborhoods feel deprived when they see other wealthier neighborhoods and wealthy people. They feel that these people have it all and are having a good time at their expense. This feeling of deprivation often occurs in metropolitan areas like New York or Boston where the different class neighborhoods are close together. Relative deprivation theory also is proven in nations that are tourist attractions. Certain locations in the Caribbean are poor or low-income areas, when the people who live there in poverty see wealthy and rich tourists with gold and diamond jewelry they feel deprived which leads to crime. The relative deprivation theory explains the association between crime and the economy but focuses on the lower class. Agnew's general strain theory expanded on this but did not limit his views to lower class crime (Siegal, 2000). The relative deprivation theory has little support because it was tested in high crime areas to detect the impact of socioeconomic inequality. Some studies showed support that economic inequality produced crime while other studies showed very little support. The general strain theory tried to explain the association between non-economic variables and community crime rates (Agnew, 1999).

One of the most important elements of a good theory is that it must be applicable today and in twenty years. The general strain theory is able to applied to society in the past, present, and future. The general strain

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