A Short Note on Opportunity structures with Examples

In every society there are some groups that will be more privileged than the others, this results in the fact that some will automatically have better access to resources than the others. This results in what Richard A Cloward and Llyod B. Ohlin have called the opportunity structure. They gave this theory in their book ‘Delinquency and Opportunity’ in 1960. Opportunity structure arises from the fact that the privileges and opportunities available to people in the society are a virtue of the structure of the which they are a part of, and based on this they will have access to further resources and success in life. E.g. those belonging to the upper strata of the society are often the ones who will have better access to education and automatically will have better opportunities in the future as compared to those belonging to the lower strata of the society. Thus wee see as a result of the social structure opportunities are being created.

Richard and Llyod have used this theory to explain deviance in society and thus is influenced to a large extent on the structural strain theory given by Robert Merton. To understand this better we must first understand the two sources of opportunities that exist in society. The first one is the legitimate, traditional source, this allows the people, by the virtue of their position in the society, to succeed and gain access to material rewards, they may do this by pursuing education. The other source is illegitimate, this arises from the unequal distribution of opportunity, people tend to deviate from the traditional sources of creating opportunity when such legitimate sources are blocked for them, this may be due to their economic conditions, race, sex or caste, in such a case people take up illegal activities such as stealing, black marketing, selling drugs, etc in order to make money.

This is similar to the structural strain theory which entails that, the deviant behavior in the society arises when people are not given adequate resources to create opportunity and become successful. They engage in deviant behavior to create rewards that are considered to be desired. There are typically three kinds of illegitimate or delinquent opportunity structures; criminal, conflict and retreatist.

Criminal- this is a kind of subculture that arises from the existence of criminal adult culture in the society, here the adults commit crimes and the younger generations learn from them and engage in criminal activities. They commit crimes that usually are related to money and bring them money. Such a subculture consists of high rates of organized crime.

Conflict– these are subcultures where the rate of the organized crime is less, the younger generations here do not aim to gain success by committing more crimes (like in the criminal subculture) rather the aim here is to gain respect through gang violence.

Retreatist- these people are known as ‘double failures’ they are unable to succeed in even the criminal subculture, and thus indulge in substance abuse, such as the use of drugs and alcohol to cope with such failure.

Thus the opportunity structure is a result of the structure of the society which is categorized into legitimate or illegitimate depending on the means one uses in order to create opportunity and get rewards in the society.

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