It was Durkheim who used the concept of anomie to refer to a situation of normlessness, where there is a lack of cultural guides to behaviour that can regulate the actions of individuals, or alternately, a situation in which a person's unlimited aspirations exceed the opportunities available to them. It was one of the principle reasons he used to explain suicide. In this contaxt, Durkheim believed that a 'healthy' society was one in which what people had, more or less fitted in with what they thought they deserved.
Robert Merton argues that both human goals and constraints on behaviour are socially based (we learn them), and that desires are socially derived, via socialisation, into cultural goals such as occupational status or financial success. These aspirations derive from the cultural values of a particular society.
The constraints on the attainment of these socially based goals are influenced by two factors: cultural norms and institutionalised means. Hence, norms instruct people in the actions people may legitimately use in the pursuit of goals, and institutionalised means refers to the actual distribution of opportunities for achieving the cultural goals by legitimate means.
Goals and norms refer to cultural factors, while institutionalised means 'brings in aspects of the social structure'. Merton argues that strain occurs as a result of the frustrations and injustices emerging from the interrelationship between cultural goals, cultural norms and the institutionalised opportunities available within the social structure.
Not everyone can become rich and successful, the American/British dream is not achievable by all, the opportunities for success are limited, and from this strain, disjunction occurs.
Thinking about this, it is fairly clear that cultures that promise a great deal to their members run a high risk of problems if these promises cannot be met. Add to this the individualistic nature of British and American culture and it becomes clear that...