Functionalist Explanations of Crime and Deviance

Functionalism –

· Durkheim:

o Unlike many sociologists, Durkheim argues that crime is, in fact, a normal part of every ‘healthy’ society

o Crime is inevitable due to not everyone being committed to, or socialised into, the general values of society, and due to the various pressures placed on individuals

o Crime may also be beneficial for society. According to Durkheim, crime is functional as it ensures that the laws and social order are applicable to contemporary society

o Laws are ‘necessary social statics’ which are very slow to change once adopted. Crime therefore tests the validity of the law

§ For example, homosexuality was once viewed as a crime, yet today it is not. Protests and (then) criminal behaviour managed to change this law

o Laws, however, are functional as they prevent a total breakdown of the social order and strengthen the collective sentiments

o If too much crime occurs in one society, then a complete breakdown of the social order occurs: this is known as anomie, where every person acts in their own self interest

o Crime is viewed as ‘an anticipation of the morality of the future’; without the deviance of Nelson Mandela or Rosa Parks our society would be very different

o Durkheim argued that without deviance, society would simply stagnate

o In a ‘society of saints’ there would still be deviance, as the slightest drop in standards would be regarded as deviant

o Crimes may enhance the collective sentiments of society, as people will unite against any crimes within their community

o Cohen (1966) agreed with Durkheim over his views of crime as functional

§ He stated that crime acted as a safety valve, through which people could release any anger or discontent in a way which did not harm the social order

§ He also stated that crime acted as a warning device to those institutions which were not acting as expected…

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