Functionalist perspective of Crime & Deviance

Bullet-pointed notes on the Functionalist perspective of crime & deviance, including Durkheim as well as Merton's strain theory.

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A2 Sociology 6th April 2011
Functionalism ­ Crime & Deviance
Functionalism is a consensus structuralist theory, which sees the source of crime
and deviance located in the structure of society
Agencies of social control such as the police and the courts are necessary to
keep deviance in check
However, some Functionalists argue that a certain amount of deviance can
contribute to the wellbeing of society
Durkheim (1895)
Argued that crime is an inevitable feature of social life, because individuals are
exposed to different influences and circumstances
Therefore, not everyone can be equally committed to the share values and moral
beliefs of society
Even in a `society of saints' where everybody tries to obey the norms, complete
conformity will be impossible
Even the most minor, perhaps unintentional act of rudeness will be seen as
serious deviance
Durkheim's 4 positive functions of crime & deviance:
1. Strengthens collective values:
a. Values can atrophy unless people are reminded of the boundaries
between right and wrong behaviour
b. For example, outrage about incidents of child abuse have the effect of
reinforcing social control against childabusers and improving the
protection of vulnerable children
c. Such events give society the opportunity to condemn deviant behaviour
and by punishing criminals, reassert the boundaries of acceptable
d. E.g. Vanessa George ­ 2009 Plymouth Child Abuse case
2. Enables social change:
a. All societies need to progress and all social change begins with some
form of deviance
b. In order for change to occur, yesterday's deviance must become
tomorrow's normality
c. E.g. Nelson Mandela, once imprisoned as a `terrorist', eventually became
President of South Africa
d. He was seen as instrumental (along with Desmond Tutu) in the eventual
abolition of apartheid ­ a major social change
3. Acts as a `safety valve':
a. Deviance can act as a `safety valve' releasing stresses in society.
Chris Cartwright

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A2 Sociology 6th April 2011
b. E.g. Mass protest demonstrations might be seen as an outlet for
expressions of discontent avoiding wider and more serious challenges to
social order
c. E.g. Prostitution enables men to escape from family life without
undermining family stability
i. However, this would most likely undermine family stability due to
the fact that it would lead to divorce
4. Acts as a warning device that society is not working properly:
a.…read more

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A2 Sociology 6th April 2011
b. E.g. Teachers who have given up caring about student success, or office
workers who have abandoned hopes of promotion and are just marking
time until they retire
4. Retreatism:
a. `Dropouts' who have rejected both the shared value of success and the
means provided to achieve it (e.g. drug addicts, tramps)
5. Rebellion:
a.…read more


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