1. Blocked Responses
Robert Merton’s strain theory focuses on the stress, anxiety and deviance caused by “discrepancies in cultural goals and the legitimate means to achieve them,” (Murphy & Robinson, 2008, p. 503). This would entail situations where “society doesn’t provide the means to everyone to accomplish the goals it sets out for them,” (Wright, 2008). The most common shared goal in American society is the pursuit of the American Dream. But strain is caused when there are blockages to that goal. When a person is not born in a position of economic comfort or wealth, for example, he or she will have far less network connections and opportunities to seek out the American Dream. He or she will not have the best access to education, which would then cut them off from a good high education, which would then cut them off from having access to a high-paying job – a release from their debilitating social status.
Merton’s modes of adaptation cover conformity (if a poor person works hard, he or she will still gain the American Dream); ritualism (keep working hard but staying in financial hardship); retreatism (dropping out of hard work and possibly marrying into wealth that may not frankly work out); rebellion (either adapting a different perspective on richness or fight for equal opportunity for all social classes); and innovation (getting into crime to make more money).
Murphy and Robinson (2008) propose the mode of adaptation called maximization. It is a mix of conformity and innovation, which blends “both legitimate and illegitimate means of opportunity,” (p. 503). They noted that maximization is most apparent in corporate business, where CEO’s will break the rules in order to achieve financial success. Not only this, but breaking the rules is considered “normal” behavior (p. 512), so it is something that is accepted.
This points to two things: what determines legitimacy of achieving cultural goals is defined by the immediate society that surrounds the activity, and that these modes of adaptation are not mutually exclusive. A person can act in several modes of adaptation at once. Because of this, I suggest mixing conformity and rebellion as a means to efficiently adapt to the specific problem trying to make it in the American Dream. Obviously, the same wouldn’t be said if the current problem was involvement in an abusive relationship. But mixing the ideals of rebelling, or “finding new goals and a new means to obtain them,” (Wright, 2008), with those of conformity (finding institutionalized means of succeeding) would lead to more creative approaches at tackling economic struggles. This would entail taking more risks, or dropping one job in exchange of learning new skills altogether for another job.
2. The Glass Ceiling
The “glass ceiling” is defined as “an artificial barrier that prevents qualified individuals from advancing upward in their organization into high-ranking positions. A barrier may exist in different forms and is often based on attitudes held by individuals or organizations,” (Baumgartner & Schneider, 2010, p. 560). In the case of women, there is a definite glass ceiling that stops them from succeeding. As noticed in Baumgartner and Schneider (2010) by women who successfully broke the glass ceiling, there are a few factors that contribute to this syndrome.
First of all, “many men have done their best to prevent women from succeeding,” (Baumgartner & Schneider, 2010, p. 560), as part of continuing historical sexism against women. Secondly, women today are balancing work and the family, which leaves them with fewer resources. Third, mentorship is highly misunderstood, leading to several conflicts between the mentor and the mentee. Also, there is the “queen bee syndrome,” when “a woman who has made it to the top finds a reason not to help other women aspiring to break through the glass ceiling,” (p. 561), suggesting that there is no moral support for struggling women.
But it is not just women who are at risk of the glass ceiling. Minorities of color, religion and sexuality would also face the struggles of succeeding. This is because white men will constitute the vase majority of senior management positions (Kilborn, 1995). If historical prejudice against women stopped them from succeeding, then historical racism and xenophobia would also play a role against minorities. Ironically, findings show that male managers “actually stand no better odds of reaching the top today than they did 30 years ago,” (Kilborn, 1995, p. A22). It’s just that as the times are changing, the face of their competition is also changing. This would have to be because the glass ceiling is a systematic barrier that manifests itself into the attitudes of individuals. In this sense, as long as there continues to be historical prejudice towards a person from any kind of minority, whether it be race, gender, religion, sexuality or disability, there will always be a glass ceiling.
Baumgartner, M.S., & Schneider, D.E. (2010). Perceptions of women in management: A thematic analysis of razing the glass ceiling. Journal of Career Development, 37(2), pp. 559-576. (2)
Kilborn, P.T. (1995, March 16). For many in work force, ‘glass ceiling’ still exists. The New York Times, pp. A22. (2)
Murphy, D.S., & Robinson, M.B. (2006). The Maximizer: clarifying Merton’s theories of anomie and strain. Theoretical Criminology, 12(4), pp. 501-521. (1)
Wright, B. (2008, December 16). Merton’s strain theory, crime, and my pants. Bradley Wright’s Blog. Retrieved from http://brewright.blogspot.com/2008/12/mertons- strain-theory-crime-and-my.html (1)