Deviance - a functionalist perspective

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Deviance: a functionalist perspective
The functions of deviance
When seeking to offer sociological explanations for deviance functionalism looks to the
structures of society as a whole and seeks to argue that a certain level of deviance is
necessary and even makes a positive contribution to the wellbeing of society, despite the
fact that this seems to fly in the face of the importance that they place on all areas of society
having shared norms, values and mores.
For Durkheim crime is `an integral part of all healthy societies'. Furthermore they recognise
that certain level of crime is inevitable giving that there is such a vast plurality of views and
styles of living within society it would be impossible if everyone were to subscribe to the
dominant norms and values of society that are handed down through socialisation by its main
institutions such as the family and education. While there is a degree of inevitability
functionalists do recognise that deviant values must be prevented from become the dominant
norms and customs otherwise this would throw society out of balance and lead to its
breakdown. In addition to Durkheim recognises that a society where everyone abstained
from all form of crimes would still contain deviants because the slightest slip from perfect
norms of behaviour such as impoliteness would be considered deviant. The main issue is to
recognise where the line is between too much and just enough deviance, and to make sure
that society remains on the side of the latter. To curtail the spread of deviance a criminal
justice system is put in place to punish more serious expressions of deviance that damage the
rights and health of members of society.
While some have argued that functionalists are inherently traditionalists and defenders of the
status quo most functionalist theorists have argued that a certain amount of change is healthy
for a society because if society is allowed the stagnate then discord may grow among its
members as individual progress comes to be seen as impossible./ as such a certain amount
of deviance must remain unpunished because without it new ideas and practices would not
be allowed to flourish which can lead themselves to social change and become the norms of
society in future. Two famous examples to illustrate this point can be the repression of the
theories of the astrologer Galileo for fear that they challenged religious doctrine too strongly
and would damage faith in God by the Catholic Church, an act that could still be responsible
for holding back our scientific understanding of the laws of nature and secondly the German
sociologist Max Weber argued that ascetic Protestantism was a major driving force behind
the growth and spread of industrial capitalism and that without it there would not have been
the many immense social changes that we have seen as a result of capitalism becoming the
dominant ideological and economic system across the world. For Durkheim there was the
danger that if there was too much punishment of deviance it would lead to both the `creative
imagination of the criminal and of the genius' being crushed. Furthermore there are numerous
examples of deviance as resisting the oppression and disadvantage of particular social
groups without resorting to the violent criminality such as the British MP William Wilberforce
who campaigned within parliament and around the country for the abolition of slavery, the

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AfricanAmerican civil rights leader Martin Luther King and the `father' of India and leader
of the nationalist independence movement Mohandas Ghandi.
In the case of someone like Nelson Mandela we can apply Durkheim's view that those we
consider deviant today may be the ones who bring about the next social and moral order.…read more

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Naming his approach strain theory Merton argued that there were five main responses
of members to the social pressure to conform to the shared values of society which
largely depend on our class position or other factors that affect where we are in society.…read more

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Many of these people do not become
deviant or criminal yet they also do not subscribe to the standard success goals or
means.…read more

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