Blog 5: Merton on Social Structure and Anomie

According to Robert Merton in “Social Structure and Anomie” (1938), “our primary aim lies in discovering how some social structures exert a definite pressure upon certain persons in the society to engage in nonconformist rather than conformist conduct” (672), as many societies are innovated to retreat and rebel against a structured way of life that they feel is monotonous and misleading. In his anomie theory, the adaptation to anomie locates the cause of deviance in a disjuncture (or mismatch) between culturally prescribed goals (values) and socially structured means (norms) to achieve them, as individuals in such a society must adapt to this mismatch, and some of those adaptations may lead to deviance and cause social/structural strain. When a group of individuals turns to innovation to strive toward culturally prescribed goals through illegitimate (often criminal) means, it shows that they are accepting cultural goals but reject their legitimate, institutionalized means; the main innovator may move into criminal/delinquent roles that employ illegitimate means in order to obtain their economic success. As this group continues to enact its nonconformist goals, their next step would be to achieve a complete escape from the pressures and demands of their organized society by rejecting its goals and means and withdrawing from it emotionally/socially. In the last stage of their activism, the group would attempt to transform the existing structure of their society by turning to rebellion and publicly acknowledging its intention to change the norms and the social structure that they support in the interests of building a better, more just society.

All three of Merton’s views on social structure and anomie are examined in the film The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013), as the poor citizens of Panem find themselves in the early stages of rebellion against their structured totalitarian government. After witnessing how Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark were both willing to sacrifice their lives and becoming victors in the first movie, the citizens are innovated that this is the spark they need to show the Capitol that they won’t have to suffer its oppressive rule any longer, under the idea that Katniss and Peeta are their inspiring symbols. Driven by the Capital’s dominant cultural emphasis, the citizens begin to use illegitimate but expedient means to overcome these structural blockages by rioting, painting pictures of the mockingjay (a bird that also represents a symbol of hope), and making the three-finger salute of District 12 as a sign to show that they will not easily give in. Showing no signs of retreat, the citizens turn into a “rising class” that wants to “locate the source of [their] large-scale frustrations in the social structure [in order to] portray an alternative structure which would not, presumably, give rise to frustration of the deserving.” They have now begun a full-scale rebellion and the tyrannical President Snow must now take desperate measures into his own hands.

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One response to “Blog 5: Merton on Social Structure and Anomie

  1. I really enjoyed reading this post. It was creative, detailed, and spot on. I think you used a perfect example to better illustrate Merton’s ideas on social structure and anomie and you wrote it out really well. Also, you clearly have great taste in movies!

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