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Sociology Definition of the Week: Opportunity Structure

By February 1, 2012

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The opportunity structure in a society is the distribution of people's access to occupations and other ways for supporting their live and achieving goals. The concept plays a central role in Robert Merton's Theory of Deviance. Merton argues that most societies include some degree of consensus over major values, such as those that define what it means to live a "good life." If a culture promotes shared values that define people's goals, but the structure does not provide equal access to legitimate means for achieving those goals, higher levels of deviance will result. People will be more likely to create innovative and illegal ways of achieving the same goals everyone aspires to. Or they may rebel against the system in various ways to protest the unequal opportunity structure.

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