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Functionalist Explanations of Crime and Deviance
Dukrheim argued that all societies face major problems:
How to achieve social order
How to maintain social stability
In this view this was no easy task since a vast number of unique individuals each with their own
interests have to be persuaded to behave in an orderly way. Social interaction is only possible if it is
based on shared meanings and Durkheim saw this being achieved through the collective
conscious where society's members agree (form a consensus) about common expectations
regarding behaviour based on shared norms and values about what is right and wrong.
For Durkheim, one way to reinforce the collective conscious is to challenge and test its
fundamental beliefs through deviant behaviour.
The view of this perspective, that deviance is normal, goes against the way we are generally
encouraged to see it, but according to Durkheim it is a normal part of everyday existence because it
is a way that the collective conscience can be recognised and supported.
The neo-functionalist Tierney (2005) also notes that crime and deviance are social facts, and if
such things are found in an "average" society then they are normal. Hence he provides support for
Durkheim's view that crime is normal.
A limited amount of crime and devaince are therefore necessary and inevitable; a point that
prompt Durkheim to argue that there would even be deviance in a society of saints. However, he
also acknowledged that too much crime would be bad for society. While this appears contradictory,
Durkheim argued that it was the amount of crime that determined whether it was good or bad for a
Deviance is not only an inevitable and necessary part of society it also performs a number of
As stated previously society consists of common expectations with shared agreement about right
and wrong. Despite this the boundaries of acceptable behaviour need to be defined and known to
all. This is exactly th role of criminal law, which indicated the limits of acceptable behaviour. Each time
the police arrest someone they are making clear to society that a particular action is unacceptable.
The boundaries need to be known to everyone, therefore some form of publicity needs to be
generated (Enkson.) This occurs most powerfully in the dramatic setting of the courtroom where
symbolism and ceremony/ritual condems a persons actions, and is doing so is active in boundary
setting and maintanence.
Every time a criminal is convicted attention is drawn to the unacceptability of those acts.
Sometimes large numbers of people may feel synpathy with the criminal and in such cases the law is
clearly out of step with the feelings of the majority abnd there is a need to reform the law. Criminals
therefore proviode a crucial service in helping the law to reflect the will of the people and in some
cases initating social change through law change, such as the change in law on the force we can use
Albert Cohen develops Durkheim's ideas by suggesting two other positive functions of deviance.
Deviance can be a safety valve, providing a relitively harmless expression of discontent and in doing
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He also suggests that deviant acts are a useful warning that society is
dysfunctioning or an aspect is malfunctioning, drawing attention to the problem and leading to
measures to solve it; such as the James Bulger murder which lead to a change in the law regarding
ages of imprisonment.
The Negative Impact of Crime
Durkheim explains that there are negative aspects of crime. In periods of great social change and
stress the collective conscience is weakened.…read more