The Structural Strain Theory of Social Movement is a sociological concept that seeks to explain the emergence and development of social movements. This theory suggests that social movements arise as a response to structural strains within society, where certain groups or individuals experience a disjunction between their goals and the means available to achieve them.

Origins of the Structural Strain Theory

The Structural Strain Theory was first proposed by Robert K. Merton, an influential American sociologist, in the mid-20th century. Merton’s theory built upon the works of Émile Durkheim, who emphasized the role of social structure in shaping individual behavior and collective action.

Merton’s Concept of Anomie

Merton introduced the concept of “anomie” to describe a state of normlessness or a breakdown in the connection between individual aspirations and societal expectations. He argued that when social structures fail to provide equal opportunities for all members of society to achieve their goals, it creates a strain that can lead to deviant behavior or collective action.

Key Ideas of the Structural Strain Theory

The Structural Strain Theory posits several key ideas:

Examples of the Structural Strain Theory in Action

The Structural Strain Theory has been applied to various social movements throughout history. One notable example is the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, which emerged as a response to racial segregation and systemic discrimination. African Americans experienced structural strains due to limited opportunities for political representation, economic advancement, and social equality.

The feminist movement also aligns with the Structural Strain Theory. Women faced structural strains such as gender inequality, unequal pay, and limited access to education and employment opportunities. These strains led to collective action aimed at challenging patriarchal norms and achieving gender equality.


The Structural Strain Theory of Social Movement provides a framework for understanding why social movements arise in response to structural strains within society. By recognizing the disjunction between goals and means, this theory sheds light on the motivations behind collective action.

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