Robert Merton’s theory of social structure and anomie seeks to explain deviance. In this theory, Merton believes that deviant behavior is due to conditions in the social structure. Society creates a strain between culturally prescribed goals and the socially structured means to achieve them. Culturally prescribed goals are the values in a society and the socially structured means are the norms in a society. Merton talks about five different modes of adaptations to an anomic society. Conformity is when a person accepts both the goals and means of a society. Innovation is when a person accepts the goals but rejects the means. Ritualism is when a person rejects the goals but accepts the means. Retreatism is when a person rejects both the goals and the means. Rebellion is when a person does not want the goals and the means of society, and wishes to change the social structure.
Deviance results because of an imbalance of the goals and the means. Society sometimes does not give everybody the same opportunity to achieve the goals. For example, people in a low class do not have the same opportunities as people in a high class. Anomie comes about when there is too much emphasis on the goals of society and not enough means to achieve them. Society emphasizes financial success but not everybody can be financially successful. Therefore, this creates a strain which leads some people to become deviant.