Definition: The structural strain theory was developed by Robert K. Merton as a part of the functionalist perspective on deviance. This theory traces the origins of deviance to the tensions caused by gaps between cultural goals and the means people have available to achieve those goals. Societies are characterized by both culture and social structure. Culture establishes goals for people in society while social structure provides (or fails to provide) the means for people to achieve these goals. In a well-integrated society, people use accepted means to achieve the goals society establishes. When the means are out of balance with the goals, deviance is likely to occur. This imbalance between cultural goals and structurally available means can compel the individual into deviant behavior.