Comparison of Baltimore and Appalachia through Structural Strain Theory

In class we learned about Structural Strain Theory. This theory states that “deviance is a result of a mismatch between cultural goals and the institutionalized means of reaching those goals” (Medley-Rath). There are cultural goals, which generally means the American Dream in the United States, and institutional means, which generally means education in the United States. It is argued that “a mismatch between the cultural goals and the institutionalized means can lead to deviance” (Medley-Rath) and therefore result in five adaptations which include conformity, innovation, ritualism, retreatism, and rebellion. The article we read by Medley-Rath focuses on how this theory was evident during the Baltimore riots.

The article stated that “one only needs to work hard, get educated, and then a person will be able to achieve the American Dream” but then went on to state that this was nearly impossible in Baltimore where Freddie Gray lived where the employment rate is “over 50 percent, the high school student absence rate hovers at 49.3 percent, and the life expectancy tops out at 68.8 years” (Medley-Rath). These statistics show evidence of how hard is it to achieve the American Dream if the odds are so against people in these communities and that is why they rebel. The situation of this neighborhood in Baltimore reminded me a lot of the communities I have worked with in Appalachia, but the communities in Appalachia have not rioted.

Similarly to the neighborhood in Baltimore, Appalachia experiences extreme poverty and inability to achieve cultural goals and institutionalized means. The poverty rate is “16.1% in the Appalachian region of Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia” (Fahe). Also, In Appalachia “only 17.7 percent of the population age 25 and older has a college degree” (Schwartz). These statistics are very comparative to areas where there have been riots, yet riots are a rare occasion in these rural Appalachian communities although they are both equally similar in ability to reach cultural goals and institutionalized means. This leads me to believe that Structural Strain Theory is simply not enough to explain why riots happen.

There are many factors that could trigger rioting beyond lack of access to cultural goals and institutionalized means. Police brutality is a large factor. When trying to find examples of police brutality in Appalachia, I came across an article that talked about how a man was killed after being tased multiple times for acting “erratic, crashing his truck into a ditch, and cussing and yelling during the Lawrence County High School graduation” (Griffin). Although friends and family feel as though there was more to the story and he was not justly cared for, no riots broke out. When a similar event occurred in Baltimore with Freddie Gray, riots erupted. This is most likely because there is a long history of police brutality in neighborhoods such as Freddie Gray’s. This example shows that Structural Strain Theory can not simply be used on its on to describe why riots happen.


Works Cited

“Appalachian Poverty.” Fahe. Fahe, 12 Sept. 2013. Web. 22 Nov. 2015.

Griffin, Dan. “UPDATE: Friends and Family Want Answers in Death after ‘Tasing'” WSAZ RSS. WSAZ News Channel, 2 June 2015. Web. 22 Nov. 2015.

Kelvin, Pollard. “The Appalachian Region in Review: 2010.” The Appalachian Region in 2010: A Census Data Overview (n.d.): n. pag. Appalachian Regional Commission. Web. 22 Nov. 2015.

Medley-Rath, Stephanie. “Structural Strain Theory and the Baltimore Riots.” Sociology In Focus Structural Strain Theory and the Baltimore Riots Comments. Sociology in Focus, 4 May 2015. Web. 22 Nov. 2015.

Schwartz, Jeffrey H. “Development and Progress of the Appalachian Higher Education Network.” ARC. Appalachian Regional Commission, n.d. Web. 22 Nov. 2015.

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