Fame and Strain: The Contributions of Mertonian Deviance Theory to an Understanding of the Relationship Between Celebrity and Crime

Patrick Parnaby, McMaster University
Vincent F. Sacco, Queen's University

Most attempts to investigate the relationship between socially-induced strain and various forms of crime and deviance have tended to stress the thwarted search for materialist goals. Importantly, however, there is nothing in Merton's original argument that necessitates such limitations. The current paper argues that while material success remains a dominant cultural goal at the dawn of the twenty-first century, there is a need to consider other ways in which blocked opportunity relates to conformity. Specifically, we argue that within the context of mass-mediated, image-driven postmodern societies, it may be the search for fame and celebrity status, rather than the race for more tangible stratification outcomes, that animates the dynamic relationship between deviance and social control. Through an exploration of the modern meaning of fame, Merton's classic statement on goals, opportunity and strain is re-interpreted in order to account for various forms of social deviance, including spree killing, eating disorders, lottery gaming and engagement in deviant subcultures.

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Updated 05/20/2006