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Application of Strain Theory to Financial Crime

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 1610 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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How has strain theory contributed to our understanding of financially driven criminal behaviour? How can we better understand the case of Rajina Subramaniam using this theoretical framework? Use the set reading, case study and your own further research to address this question.

In this essay I will examine how strain theory has contributed to the understanding of financially driven criminal behaviour. White, Haines, and Asquith (2012) states that structural strain refers generally to the processes by which inadequate regulation at the societal level filters down to how individual perceives his or her needs. Individual strain refers to the frictions and pains experienced by the individuals as they look for ways to meet their needs which becomes the motivational mechanism that causes crime (White, Haines, and Asquith 2012). This essay will analyse the theoretical framework by drawing on the case study of Rajina Subramaniam and academic literature.

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PARA TWO: Sociologist Robert Merton agrees that deviance is a normal behaviour among a functioning society (Agnew 1993). Merton also claims that access to socially acceptable goals plays a part in determining whether a person deviates or conforms in society (White, Haines and Asquith 2017). Merton argues that all individuals share the same cultural goals in one way or another, but they have different institutional means of achieving them (White, Haines and Asquith 2017). For example, some people at the lower end of the socio-economic scale will experience blocked opportunities than those from a wealthy family. Consequently, this has major impacts on behaviour. Additionally, Merton believed there was a disjunction between socially approved means to success and legitimate cultural goals. All throughout life individuals are encouraged to achieve the goal of financial success. However, not everyone in society stands on equal footing. A person may have the socially acceptable goal of financial success but lack a socially acceptable way of reaching that goal (White, Haines and Asquith 2017). The discrepancy between the reality of structural inequality and the high cultural value of economic success creates a strain that has to be resolved by some means. Therefore, Merton defined five ways that people adapt to this gap between having a socially accepted goal but no socially accepted way to pursue it (White, Haines and Asquith 2017). First, the majority of people in society choose to conform and not to deviate (White, Haines and Asquith 2017). Therefore, individuals pursue society’s valued goals to the extent that they can through socially accepted means (White, Haines and Asquith 2017). Secondly, people who innovate accept the culturally defined goals but lack the means to accomplish them (White, Haines and Asquith 2017). Thirdly, people who ritualize lower their goals until they can reach them through socially acceptable ways (White, Haines and Asquith 2017). This individual has accepted the fact that the cultural goal is unobtainable, but still tries to reach the goal through legal channels. Fourthly, other people retreat from the role strain and reject both society’s goals and accepted means (White, Haines and Asquith 2017). Some beggars and street people have withdrawn from society’s goal of financial success. These individuals have withdrawn from society mentally, socially, or both (White, Haines and Asquith 2017). And last, White, Haines and Asquith (2017) state a handful of people in society rebel, replacing society’s goals and means with their own. Rebels seek to create a greatly modified social structure in which provision would be made for closer correspondence between merit, effort, and reward (White, Haines and Asquith 2017). This individual not only gives up on the cultural goal and creates a new goal, but also gives up on legal means of meeting the new goal. Examples of rebels are eco-terrorist organizations, cult religions and white supremacist groups (White, Haines and Asquith 2017).

PARA THREE:  According to Merton’s theory, an entrepreneur who cannot afford to launch his own company may be tempted to embezzle from his employer for start-up funds (Agnew 1993). Similarly, Subramaniam was stealing from her employer to receive attention and positive affirmation from her colleagues and complete strangers.


In relation to the case study of Subramaniam, among her childhood she experienced sexual abuse from her family which led to her having no self-esteem. This emotional strain then led her to crave attention and positive affirmation by splurging on expensive gifts for colleagues and complete strangers. Additionally, in a clinical study Arnold et al (2003) cited in Watts and McNulty 2013) found that women with reported history of childhood sexual abuse had significantly higher levels of depression and aggression, and more likely to be convicted of a crime. Consequently, individuals with low self-control such as Subramaniam, may be less able to effectively cope with significant strains and more persuaded to respond in a criminal way. These strains are likely to elicit emotional reactions (anger, fear, depression, rage), which then triggers potential coping mechanisms as individuals seek to deal with the strainful events and ensuing emotional feeling. Some coping mechanisms are effective at decreasing and/or improving the strainful event and negative emotion, but when these mechanisms are ineffective antisocial behaviour ensues and can be directed at the cause of the strain, at some other target, or even at oneself (Higgins, Piquero and Piquero 2011). Therefore, due to the financial strain Subramanian endured she resulted in stealing to overcome the strain.

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Scheuerman (2013) further explained the crime-generating process in GST, by outlining the four criteria and processes for evaluating events to determine if they are a strain that may result in crime and delinquency. The individual must evaluate the event as being unjust. The individual must evaluate the event as being high in magnitude, via a determination of the personalization of the event. The event must be associated with low social control. When experiencing the event, the individual is likely to see that no one is around to maintain order to assist in reducing the unjust and high magnitude nature of the event. The event needs to provide pressure or incentive to produce criminal coping. That is, the event needs to provide the individual with a reason for change. The evaluation process influences the determination of a criminal or deviant reaction to the event. To be clear, when an event meets these criteria, the individual is more apt for crime and deviance because there is penchant for coping in a criminal rather than a noncriminal way. The evaluation of the event is likely to blur the individual’s ability to adequately evaluate the consequences of the behaviour making crime and deviance probable. choice of crime and deviance as a coping mechanism may arise from internal and external factors, as some factors may provide the proper conditions for crime and deviance.

CONC: A limitation of Strain theory is thatMerton does not consider why some people find it harder to achieve society’s goals than others, He also does not pursue the idea that inequality or unequal opportunities in society are a social problem, nor what the cause of that problem might be. While not being able to achieve the Australian Dream might encourage someone to rob a bank, there is no apparent reason why I would lead someone to beat someone up or draw graffiti on a shop front.

Reference List

  • White, R, Haines, F & Asquith, N 2012, ‘Strain theory’, in Crime and criminology, 6th edn, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, pp. 73 – 94 
  • Watts, S.J and McNulty, T.L 2013, ‘Childhood Abuse and Criminal Behaviour: Testing a General Strain Theory Model’, Journal of Interpersonal Violence, vol. 28, issue. 15, pp. 3023-3040, 1 October, viewed on 14 April 2018, https://doi-org.ezproxy.uws.edu.au/10.1177/0886260513488696
  • White, R, Haines, F & Asquith, N 2017, ‘Crime and Criminology’, in Crime and criminology, 6th edn, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, pp. 73 – 94 
  • https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/wsudt/detail.action?docID=4852228
  • https://journals-sagepub-com.ezproxy.uws.edu.au/doi/pdf/10.1177/0044118X10382032
  • Scheuerman, H. L 2013, ‘The relationship between injustice and crime: A general strain theory approach’, Journal of Criminal Justice, vol. 41, no. 6, December 2013, pp. 375-385, viewed on 2 May 2019.
  • https://heinonline-org.ezproxy.uws.edu.au/HOL/Page?lname=&public=false&collection=journals&handle=hein.journals/crim30&men_hide=false&men_tab=toc&kind=&page=47&t=1558481081


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