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Functionalism and crime
Theories on crime and deviance are diverse and often competing. But share one thing in
common, they often offer social rather than biological or psychological explanations.
Functions of crime
Crime and deviance as normal
Functionalists see shared norms and values as the basis of social order and social solidarity it
is not surprising that they consider crime and deviance, beyond a certain level to be
dysfunctional or harmful for society a threat to social order and the survival of social
system. What is perhaps surprising is the view that a certain amount of crime and deviance
id not only normal but also and integral part of all healthy societies (Durkheim 1964)
A crime or deviance free society is seen as a contradiction in terms Durkheim 1895 asked us
to "imagine a society of saints a prefect cloister of exemplary individuals, crimes properly so
called, will there be unknown; but faults which appear venial (trivial) to the layman will create
there the same scandal that the ordinary offence does in ordinary consciousness."
While too much crime or deviance constitutes a threat to social order, too little crime is
unhealthy. It indicates that the norms and values are so strong and constricting that they
prevent the innovation and change necessary for a healthy society.
Crime and deviance as functional
Durkheim says a certain amount of crime is functional because of the response such
activities draw froth from society. Through degradation ceremonies such as criminal trial s
and public punishment, we are reminded of our shared norms and values. By publically
condemning those who have broken significant rules, not only norms and values are
reaffirmed but also we learn the limits of toleration and unite against the condemned. Crime
and deviance, or at least the response to them, are functional because they serve to
reinforce social solidarity and integrate into society.
Do crime and deviance serve any other functions? Some functionalists believe they do.
Kingsley Davis 1961 argued crime and deviance can act as a "safety valve". He claimed that
there is a conflict between mans instinctual need for sexual satisfaction and society's need
to restrict the legitimate expression of sex to within the family. In this context is functional
because it provides sexual satisfaction without threatening the family as an institution.
Another writer has indentified a warning function of crime and deviance. They may serve as a
signal or warning that there is some defect in the social organisation, which may lead to
changes that enhance efficiency and morale (Clinard 1974). For example truancy from school
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Suggesting functions for crime and deviance however is not the same as finding an
explanation for them. To argue crime and deviance have certain social consequences does
not explain their presence in the 1st place. It is one thing to assert that crime can be made
to serve some social end or other once it has occurred- for example to heighten solidarity
by uniting against the offender.…read more