Socialization is the process in which a person interacts with people in the society and forms relationships with them. Criminological and sociological theories, including the social strain theory, explain crime in terms of a person's social relationships. What sets Robert Agnew’s strain theory apart is that it specifically focuses on negative social relationships, in which people are not treated as they want to be treated, thus promoting and leading to criminal and deviant behavior. According to strain theory, people adopt criminal and deviant behavior when others prevent them from achieving positively valued goals/stimuli. The focus of the strain theory was expanded by Agnew to include negative relationships in which people are presented with negative or noxious stimuli. The name Ted Bundy, the notorious rapist and serial killer, is synonymous with brutality, fear, and terror. Ted Bundy is a name that is synonymous with dread, fear, and savage violence. Ted Bundy led a strained life and applying the strain theory is likely to explain what led to commit the crimes that he committed.
Analyzing the Biography of Ted Bundy
Theodore Robert Bundy was born to lower-middle class family, who were Methodists. Bundy was an illegitimate child, which caused his childhood to become controversial and forcing him to lead a strained life when he discovered this. Until Bundy discovered the truth about his illegitimate birth, his mother pretended to be his older sister and his grandparents pretended to be his parents (Vronsky, 2004). Bundy’s mother/sister always treated him like a son causing his relationship with her throughout his childhood to be full of confusion. When his suspicions that he was a ‘bastard child’ would have most like led him to believe that his life in society would be strained (Michaud and Aynesworth 2000). Thus, it can be assumed that his criminality was rooted in the being excluded from ‘normal’ society. Bundy would also have felt the strain of fitting into the social norms, perhaps that is why he stole as teenager. During his teenage years, Bundy was suspected of several burglaries and ended up becoming a regular thief.
However, apparently theft was not enough for Bundy, he strived for more. Therefore, he enrolled into university, went on to gain a degree in Psychology despite dropping out a couple of times, and was eventually employed by the Washington State Republican Party. Bundy even proceeded to study law at the University of Utah for some time, but probably because he was dissatisfied with everything that he had achieved, he eventually dropped out. Soon after, Bundy’s murder spree began, and as his lawyer recently claimed, he went on to brutally murder more than 100 women (Myall, 2012). It is arguable that Ted Bundy could have achieved positively a valued goal since he had the education, an impeccable job, and the opportunity to study further. However, the strain theory applies to Bundy because his life during the developmental years of his childhood were strained, he was most likely not treated as he wanted to be, and are most likely other factors involved that caused him to pursue a negative goal, which will be discussed.
What is Robert Agnew’s General Strain Theory?
Although the strain theory was first developed by sociologist Robert Merton, but it was Robert Agnew who overhauled and expanded the theory. While explaning why crime takes place, Agnew presents a much broader viewpoint of sources of strain, namely, inability to achieve positively valued stimuli, the presence of negative stimuli, and loss of positively valued stimuli. In the context of Agnew's strain theory, strain can occur in everyone’s life, whether they are poor or rich (Agnew, 1985). Unlike the original theory, Agnew’s revised theory actually explains how strain leads to crime. He particularly argues that strain produces negative emotional states, in Bundy's case that would be anger (violence), which contribute and encourage many different types of crimes, such as murder and rape.
Applying the Agnew’s Strain Theory to Ted Bundy
According to Robert Agnew, there are two ways to measure strain in a person’s life. The first is the subjective approach, which involves directly asking a person if they are being treated the way they want to be treated, of course, Ted Bundy was executed back in 1989. The second is the objective approach, which is typically used in research, involves determining whether a person was treated as he or she wanted to be treated by examining relationships with family, friends, and the community. Things that a personal would dislike about their treatment would be identifiable as the causes of strain (Agnew, 1992), and this paper will be identifying the causes of strain in Ted Bundy’s life that led him to become a rapist and serial killer. Measuring strain in a person’s life involves developing a comprehensive list of negative circumstances that can result in strain, and there were many such circumstances in Bundy’s life.
Main Types of Strain
According to general strain theory, there are three main types of strain, namely inability to achieve positively valued stimuli, presence of negative stimuli, and the loss of positive goals/stimuli. Surprisingly, all three were present in Bundy’s life at different points until he began his murder spree.
Inability to achieve positively valued stimuli: Strain may result in a person’s life if they are not able to achieve positively valued goals/stimuli. Agnew noted that members of the society tend to strive for several goals, such as money, and it can cause strain if they are not able to achieve it through legitimate means (Agnew, 1994). Of course, Bundy was born to a lower middle-class family, and even though this may explain why he resorted to stealing and theft during his teenage years, but this does not entirely explain why he turned into a rapist and serial killer. Respect and status is another stimulus that members of society tend to value. It is very likely that Ted Bundy valued both respect and status, and was not able to achieve either because of being born to a lower middle-class family and being an illegitimate child. The discovery that his sister was actually his mother and that he was an illegitimate child would have surely traumatized him, and he was actually very ashamed of being labeled a bastard child. Despite being an attractive teen and performing well academically, Bundy felt uncomfortable around his peers throughout his teenage years, most of whom were wealthy. Bundy lost his self confidence and became more estranged. Like any other serial killers, Bundy was insecure, especially about his social status, shy, and he wished he was wealthy like his peers (Vronsky, 2004). Bundy’s failure to acquire respect, social status, and wealth may not have triggered his brutal murder and rape spree, but his criminality is certainly rooted in it.
The presence of negative stimuli: In criminology, this type of train is largely overlooked and ignored (Agnew, 1992). However, based on some research juveniles are frequently not able to avoid negative or noxious stimuli (Agnew, 1985). There are many examples of negative stimuli, some of which such as adverse relations with parents and peers, negative school and neighborhood experiences (Agnew, 1992), were present in Ted Bundy’s life. Moreover, negative life events, in Bundy’s case the discovery that he was an illegitimate child and the loss of his girlfriend (which will be discussed later), increase criminal and deviant behavior by imposing a strong impact (Hoffmann and Miller, 1998). Although, these negative stimuli were present in Bundy’s life, however, the biggest negative stimulus according to Bundy himself, which shaped him to become a rapist and serial killer, was pornography. In an interview with James Dobson, a psychologist, Bundy reveals that he got addicted to hardcore pornography and served as an inspiration for his compulsive behavior ("Pornography and sex:," 1989). In the interview, Bundy retells how he came across “softcore pornography” while roaming outside his home. He would also find more graphic and hardcore pornographic books dumped in the garbage. He claims that this is how he gained access to and got interested in the more violent kind of pornography, which brought about his brutal behavior that he shies away from describing. This seems to suggest that Bundy was living in quite a bad neighborhood that presented him with the negative stimuli that gave rise to his compulsive behavior. Moreover, this caused Bundy to develop the habit of peeking through bedroom windows late at night to watch young women undress. Adding to the previous heading, Bundy became so addicted to pornography that reading about it and watching it was no longer enough, and his desire to experience that kind of excitement that he could not legitimately have, could have also led him to commit those heinous crimes.
Loss of positively valued stimuli: While going through literature related to stress for research purposes, Agnew discovered that if appositive stimuli that a person seems to value is removed from that person’s life, it can also cause strain. The positively valued stimuli could be anything, a family member, a friend, a romantic partner, or a valued object, and the loss could be a result of death, a breakup or theft (Agnew, 1992). According to Agnew, the strain that a person feels because of the loss of a positively valued stimulus can lead them to delinquency. For Ted Bundy, this loss of a positively valued stimulus was the loss of his longtime college girlfriend, his first love, who was pretty, sophisticated, and wealthy, everything that Bundy wanted. After falling in love with her, Bundy desperately did everything he could to impress. However, she later realized that Bundy had no real future and was not right for her, especially as a husband. So she broke up with him, devastating his heart, causing him to become obsessed with her, continuing to haunt him for years. While all the previous information reveals the various factors that shaped criminal and deviant behavior, however, it is most more than obvious that the final strain of losing his college girlfriend triggered his spree of murders and rapes. Many of his female victims bore a resemblance to his ex-girlfriend.
Robert Agnew’s revised strain theory suggest that strain from the external environment can cause many negative feelings in a person, and out of all these negative feelings, anger (violence) (Agnew, 1992) is the one that is most applicable to most criminals, including Ted Bundy, the notorious, serial killer and rapist. Furthermore, the three main sources of strain that Agnew highlights in his theory seem to have been present in Ted Bundy’s life at some point or the other. As Agnew suggests, that the negative feelings caused by strain from the external environment causes a person to blame their negative behavior on something else (Agnew, 1992), just like Bundy blamed his addiction to pornography as the reason he went on a killing and raping spree. While many other sociological theories could explain why Bundy committed those heinous crimes, however, Robert Agnew’s strain theory seems to be most applicable.
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Myall, S. (2012, May 25). Serial killer shock: Ted bundy slaughtered more than 100 women, his lawyer reveals check out all the latest news, sport & celeb gossip at mirror.co.uk http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/ted-bundy-killed-more-than-100-848007
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