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Sociological Theories of Crime

1. Anomie and Strain Theory

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In this lecture, we think about early sociological theories of crime, especially those from the Functionalist tradition, focusing in particular on: (i) Émile Durkheim’s understanding of crime as serving an integrative function; (ii) his concept of anomie as the conditions under which crime occurs; (iii) Robert Merton’s strain theory – that crime results from the strain people feel due to their inability to achieve socially approved goals – and criticisms of this; (iv) Robert Agnew’s general strain theory and the underpinning assumption within strain approaches that crime results from inequality of opportunity.


In this course, Dr Francesca Menichelli (University of Surrey) explores sociological theories of crime. In the first lecture, we consider early approaches to explaining crime, particularly those from a Functionalist perspective, including Émile Durkheim’s concept of anomie and Robert Merton’s strain theory. In the second lecture, we look at subcultural theories, such as Richard Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin’s notion of illegitimate opportunity structures. In the third lecture, we look at the relationship between crime and place through the ideas of the Chicago School and broken windows theory. Next, we examine labelling theory and moral panics – approaches which look less at explaining why people commit crime and more at how crime is defined by society. In the fifth lecture, we outline three theoretical perspectives influenced by Marxism – radical criminology, critical criminology and left realism. In the sixth and final lecture, we explore ideas grounded in rational choice theory, such as Lawrence Cohen and Marcus Felson’s routine activity theory.


Dr Francesca Menichelli is Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Surrey. Her research focuses on crime prevention, policing and social control, and her teaching covers a broad range of criminological issues. She is author of Order and Conflict in Public Space (2016).

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APA style

Menichelli, F. (2022, April 29). Sociological Theories of Crime - Anomie and Strain Theory [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Menichelli, F. "Sociological Theories of Crime – Anomie and Strain Theory." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 29 Apr 2022,

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