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Merton's theory of Anomie: Girl gangs

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Read the report A study on girls in gangs by Hong Kong Federation of Youth and evaluate the possible explanations offered by Merton’s strains towards anomie theory.

After reading the report A Study on Girls in Gang by Hong Kong Federation of Youth , to a large extent I disagree to Merton’s strain towards anomie theory.

Let's begin with the definition of Girls in Gang. Firstly, Girls in Gang means those girls are not contribute in any triad or serious criminal cases like murder, but they mainly committed in physical violence, stealing from shop or strangers, dishonesty to use their phone or bullying some people that they do it for fun. Secondly, they aged from 10 to 17 years old. Thirdly, gang members are or above 3 people.(Chu Yiu Kong, An Analysis of Youth Gangs in Tin Shui Wai in Hong Kong) Moreover, there are 5 types of structure in gangs. They are autonomous which is girl-dominant, auxiliary which is also girl-dominant but also rely on boy gangs, mixed which included girls and boys, independent group which is not control by anyone, satellite group which is girl-dominant, rely on boy gangs but independent. But what we know is, auxiliary and satellite are the main structures which were more common in Hong Kong society, and the decision-making are mainly from the boys.

According to the theory of Structural Functionalism, the society is co-related. The social relationship extending over time and form stable patterns of interaction, then these structures in turn constituted social institutions when time's gone. Therefore the social problem happens when function of an institution is not being performed properly, results from the malfunctioning. Also, from Merton's theory,' deviant behavior and social disorganization were separate and distinct; tended to see each as causing the other.' (Merton, 1938)

In the case of Girls in Gangs, there is malfunction in the social relationship of their family, which cannot achieve prerequisite of socialization in order to inherit values, social norms, customs or ideologies by the society. That means their relationship cannot engage those girls in such a way that we find appropriate and acceptable. At the same time, their family cannot give out as the role of the family does such as give them love and belonging, financial support. Thus, girls may easily accept the deviant behaviors such as join gang to satisfy their needs.

Refer to Merton's theory of strains towards anomie society, separate deviance into cultural structure and social structure. First, anomie means the low level of moral regulation which regard as normlessness, on the one hand, it is about when we are free to act and not constrained by social norms. Second, cultural structures means a hierarchy of shared values that govern our behaviors and provide us with cultural goal like achievement on education or career, material comfort of wealth. On the other hand, 'social structure means institutional norms which define and regulate the acceptable mode of reaching these goals.'(Merton, 1938) In other words, is to provide legitimate means by which members can pursue their goals. From his theory, there are five types of adaptations to achieve either cultural goals or social means. To a large extent, I agree to the conformity adaptations, but small extent agree to the ritualism adaptations, the innovation adaptation, the rebellion adaptations and the retreatism adaptation did applicable to the case of girls join gangs in Hong Kong. The reasons are as of the following.

The report of ' A study on Girls in Gangs' have shown that the several reasons of the girls join gangs because of emotional attachment and protection. As most of the interviewees responded that they were lack of affiliation, which they do not have a good or even lack of relationship with their family, school or working place. In order to fulfill their mental needs or emotional attachment, they joined gangs to achieve the conformity with other people in order to lower the loneliness. Besides, girls in gangs will be named as 'ah-so', English means either sister-in-law or girlfriend, or 'ka -mui', in English means little sister, both names did not have a direct relationship, but somehow they can get protection from the gangs because of what their fake relationship is simply as same as the real family. This structure represents that the girl participating in gangs is trying to achieve their cultural goal and they do have social means which is join gangs . Thus, the girls participate in gangs does regard as an conformity adaptations since they have their cultural goals and social means.

According to the report," A study on Girls in Gangs", the two interviewees told that they were pleasant and happy because of they can enjoy free entertainment when they join gangs. (18 years old, student) They will go to sing karaoke, dancing or go to mainland sometimes, depend on where the gangs go, and the girls in gangs do not need to pay any money, which for boys to show their gentleness and power. (16 years old, employee). From the research, it presents the girls do have cultural goal which is free entertainment regard as use the social means, but they use the same means which do not have any new goals or new means. In addition, the society was also assume the goal as materialism or material comfort, when they did not achieve their goals in legitimacy means, so they will reject the mean. Therefore, the ritualism adaptation which refers as no goals but with means cannot apply in this case.

Nonetheless, the report " A study on Girls in Gangs", One of the interviewees said that she joins gang because of her boyfriend is one of the members in gangs.(16, student)Furthermore, from what she has said, girls join gangs may seem to have a new goal which is find a boyfriend and maintain a stable love relationship with their partner, but it is also talk about they need emotional attachment, love and belonging by the mean. Thus, rebellion adaptation which have new goals and new means, and innovation adaptation which have goals and new means are not applicable in girls join gangs in Hong Kong, because they do not have the new goals and new means.

The above report data's also presented some of the girls know that when they need to leave the gang. The report shown that girls join gangs which they think they were smart enough to protect themselves, and they know what they are doing, they always did something for aim.(18, employee) This shows that they are not as what retreatlism adaptation means have no goals and no means to do some deviant behavior, and what Merton regards as true deviant. Therefore, retreatlism adaptation cannot apply in this case, as the girls join gangs for goals.

In our life, different countries or places may bring a different social structure. Compare to America, Hong Kong is rarely have serious criminal cases, and the girls in gangs which were totally different. Merton's theory can explain why rates of deviant behavior are higher in some sectors of the society than in others. 'American culture is characterized by great emphasis on the accumulation of wealth as a success symbol without a corresponding emphasis on using legitimate means to match toward their goal.'(Marshall B. Clinard, 1964) Refer to the theory, it told that in America society, if the one who want to achieve goals of being wealthy, they can use any means leaned success, even illegal or criminal should be accepted by the theory. Thus, American are more focus on wealth, and do not care all other things such as relationship, love, caring, academic, and they may not facing the same problems of Hong Kong girls in gangs which was lack of affiliation or facing failure. Then, compare to the case of Hong Kong girls in gangs, mainly concerned about the emotional attachment and conformity, join gangs seek as an instruments to achieve their conformity, they may have goals but they do not have any new means. So in this way, Merton's theory may not be appropriate to apply on the girls join gangs in Hong Kong society which is more applicable on American society.

Last but not least, Hong Kong girls join gangs should be regarding something they want like affiliation to achieve with means, which is Hong Kong girls join gangs were trying to gain conformity by satisfy their emotional attachment, love and belonging. So conformity adaptation of the Merton's theory is the only one can apply and suit on the girls join gangs in Hong Kong. On the other hand, girls in gang of Hong Kong society need to fulfill their need with means, but not with new goals or new means, so other adaptation of the Merton's theory may not be the best to apply in Girls in Gangs of Hong Kong society. Therefore, to a large extent I disagree to Merton’s strain towards anomie theory.

Reference Readings

  1. Chu, Yiu Kong (2005)"An analysis of Youth Gangs in Tin Shui Wai in Hong Kong" in Hong Kong Journal of Social Sciences NO.29 Spring/Summer 2005.
  2. Clinard, Marshall B.(1995) "Robert Merton: Anomie and Social Structure" in Earl Eubington and Martin S. Weinberg ed. The study of Social Problems - Seven Perspectives, London : Oxford University Press.
  3. Haralambos, Michael and Holborn, Martin (2000) Sociology - Themes and Perspectives ,London Collins.
  4. Mok, James and Chan Shui-ching(2008) A study on Girls in Gangs, Hong Kong : Research Centre, Hong Kong Federation of Youth Group.

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