Functionalism approach to Crime & Deviance

The advantages of what Functionalism tells us about Crime and Deviance, and how other approaches, such as Marxism and Feminism criticise their theories :)

Useful for AQA exam essay revision

  • Created by: Emily
  • Created on: 01-04-13 21:47

Functionalism approach to Crime & Deviance


  • Parsons claims inorder for society to work, all individuals must be taught/socialised to accept non-deviant values, and to abide by rules/the law. Those who do this are rewarded with wealth, qualifacations, emoployment and social status. However those who do not, are punished with stigma, fines and imprisonment.
  • Durkheim goes on to say crime is a natural part of society, that its useful and inevitable, and that crime and punishment upholds collective sentiments (collective conscience)
  • Merton ellaborates Anomie (orginally Durkheims point) through Strain Theory, in which strain occurs when individuals experiece conflict between their persuit of societys goal and the means.
  • Merton also goes on to say that unequal class positions have resulted in unequal opportunites


  • Other sociologists argue that not everyone who is inadequitly socialised turns to crime, they have, arguably, more to push them to succeed in society and do well in education and get rewarded. And not all criminals are stigmatised, as some people gain status for taking part in crime, particulary younger people
  • Marxists argue the law is only there to protect the interests of the ruling classes, and is not a reflection of the needs of the whole of society, as Durkheim argues
  • Merton assumes society is based on materialistic needs, and that crime is commited for material gain i.e. money. Movements such as the Hippie movement prove otherwise
  • Both Merton and Durkheim are too deterministic in saying people are controlled by society, as other sociologists argue we all have free-will


(In an essay conclusion, I like to throw in something like postmodernism or neo-marxism (depending on the topic at hand) to add an alternative perspective, and its not hard to remember!)
Functionalism gives us a useful explanation of crime as it helps us identify how it can lead to a total breakdown of society (anomie). However, it has been criticised largely for being too deterministic and ignoring freewill of the individual. Postmosernists would also argue that crime is a social construct, that differs between societys and time periods.


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