Structuralist essay, with functionalist and new right theory e.g Durkhiem (Anomie) Merton ..ect

Outline and assess the Structuralist view of crime. 

Structuralist views of crime and deviance suggest that crime is socially constructed. As it is focused on the nature of society as opposed to the individual, the functionalist and sub-cultural theories can be referred to when explaining crime and deviance.  Structuralist theory is macro theory; they view crime and deviance in a negative light, as it disrupts the harmony of working together in society. The key concern for Structuralist is tunderstand social behaviour by looking at the structures.  They believe crime and deviance can only be explained by looking at the way society is organised, they also emphasis that crime is caused by society rather than the circumstance of the individual.  

In this essay I will refer to Structuralist view of crime and deviance. They Stress that society needs order, seeking to explain the social world with the reference to main structuressystems and intuitions. The consensus theory (agreement) also suggests that the structures in the system and institutions all are healthy to help function and maintain cohesion in society, binding individuals together for common good. 

According to Durkheim, crime is inevitable feature of social life. As individuals are composed to different influences and circumstances, therefore not everyone can be equally committed to the shared values and moral beliefs of societyDurkheim also believed that crimes were higher in industrial cities comparison to rural areas because of complexity of the modern world rapidly re-inventing itself, old traditions are lost and replaced by more modern ways of behaving and acting. This implies that geographical location, of where you live have an affect whether you’re likely to be a victim or participate in crime. The complexity of the modern world of technology/ new economy undermines the authority of family and religionLeaving people feeling unsure about their place in the world e.g ‘when was the last time you saw an elderly person texting?’ Consensus, community and social control is weaker, so people end up the feeling of ‘anomie’ a sense of moral confusion whereby they feel separated /marginalised from the values of society and the people around them. It is seen to produce crime as those who are unconnected to society’s values will be more likely to be unconstrained by them. A critsism to Durkheim’s theory from Marxist would be that Durkheim underestimates the level of conflict and inequality in modern society.   

On the other hand Durkheim saw crime as beneficial as it could perform positive functions in society. He speculated that crime functions for the benefit of society in various ways; He identified four specific functions that deviance fulfils; 

Affirmation of cultural norms and values; seeing a person punished for a deviant act reinforces what is acceptable and what is unacceptable behaviour in society. Sentencing a thief to prison affirms our culturally held value that stealing is wrong. Just as one would believe that the concept of God could not exist without the concept of the devil. Deviance helps to define our own norms. 

Clarification of right and wrong; responses to deviant behaviour help individuals distinguish between right and wrong. When a student cheats on a test and receives a failing grade for the course, the rest of the class learns that cheating is wrong and will not be tolerated.  

Unification of others in society; Response to deviance can bring people together, In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack  people across the United States, even the world, were united in their shock  

Promoting social change; Deviance can also encourage the dominant society to consider alternative norms and values. Rosa Park act of deviance in Montgomery, Alabama in 1995 led to the U.S Supreme Court’s declaration that segregation on the public transportation was unconstitutional.  


Merton agreed with Durkheim that crime is the result of people’s different attachment to collective values. He applied  the concept of ‘anomie’ which was developed by Durkheim to the U.S society in  1930’s to explain the majority working class youth in the statics in crime and deviance.Cultural institutions such as the mass media socialises individuals into believing that material success is a realistic goal.  Merton’s theory on Materialism stemmed from the American dream this was the idea rooted from Abraham Lincoln who, it is believed came from a log cabin and became president. This story illustrates the idea that everyone can achieve material success. In other words Merton believes that we all subscribe to the American dream, but the ways in which people go about obtaining the dream are not the same as not everyone has the same opportunity and advantage as the next person.  

According to Merton the ideal society should best be considered as a cross between the cultural ‘goals’ of society (what it considers its members to strive for) and the means in which legally or morally to be legitimate ways that individuals should be able to attain these goals. For example,  

 If education and employment are perceived as the legitimate means to successthus societies should give everyone the equal opportunity to make education available to everyone, having equal access but not everyone has the same opportunity, considering there class or geographical mobility, circumstance ect Marxist would imply that society’s laws are organised for the dominant ruling class, they are most likely to befit from the structures in society to keep working class intact from deviant acts . This refers back to what Merton suggested about cultural ‘goals’ He believed that sometimes people find that they attempt to attain culturally approved goals, their paths are blocked, for instance not everyone has access to institutionalised means of legitimate ways of achieving success. This leads to frustration which further leads to individuals engaging or acting in deviant behaviour as they feel detached to society. Merton argued that crime and deviance were caused by the over-emphasis on the goal of wealth and the inability of some (particularly in the working class) to achieve this goal using legitimate means. Merton used anomie to create the strain; the strain theory developed by Merton; claims that when people are prevented from achieving culturally approved goals, their paths are blocked and as a result act deviant. For instance not everyone has an institutionalised means to achieve their goals. For example in a class of students, 90% of the students have been accepted in various universities, theirs 5% don’t want to go to university and the remaining 5%   want to go but cannot for one or number of reasons. All the students want to be financially successful, and attending university is generally accepted as the first step of the goal. The 5% who wanted to attend but can’t probably feel frustrated. They had the same goals as everyone else but were blocked from usual means of achieving them. This example highlights the effect of the strain theory, how majority of the individuals have a same goal but to not have the means to achieve it, resulting in deviant through frustration to commit crime as they feel excluded from society.  

Cohen agreed with Merton that not everyone has a means to achieve their goal, but he responded back by arguing that not all crime and deviance have a cultural goal, some do not have any material gain.  

Like Duekheim, Merton argues that deviance and crime are ‘normal’ aspects of society, however he does argues that crime is not required to generate harmony or to achieve social progress. According to Merton individuals may respond to the cultural goals and institionalised means of achieving them in various ways, he found that people adapt their goals in response to the means that society provides to achieve them, by identifying five types of reaction. 

Conformists, most  people are conformist, they accept the goals that society has set for the as well as the institution-alised  means of achieving them, most people want the vague status of the ‘good life’ and they believe that education and working hard is the best way of get there. They strive for success in conventional and are not deviant. 

Innovators-,Are likely to be working class, these people accept societys goals but reject the usual way of achieving the goal. They desire the goals in society but have no educational means of achieving success, so they turn to crime and deviance to become wealthy.   

Ritualises, They are usually lower-middle class people which reject cultural goals but still accept institionalised way of achieving them.  If a person as the same job for years has no desire for more money, responsibility, power or status he or she has given up on  the desired results. As a consequence have given up on the goal of success and this makes them deviant they go through the motions and stick to the rules, but are not committed to the dream.  

Retreatists They reject cultural goals as well as intitionalised ways of getting them, they become mad or drop out and become homeless – withdrawn from participation in society. They are not interested in making money or advancing a career in a particular field, they tend to not care about working hard or getting an education. 

Rebels , they engage in rebellious behaviour, these individuals will seek to replace the existing goals of society with new ones. They are truly deviant. ( some even form a sub-culture) 

Similar to Merton, Cohen believed that education taught the young to strive for social status through academic achievement but, when most of the working class failed this promoted ‘status frustration.’  

Nevertheless, unlike Merton, instead of focusing on economically motivated deviance or material motivated deviance, Cohen  was interested in the delinquent sub-culture, he suggested that there was no motives in thefts and other crime. Rather many acts such as joy riding or vandalism could be for the spite, or simply the thrill of the act. Aditionally Cohen argued that the working class lacked the means to aspire and obtain success within middle class value. He also argued by turning to delinquent sub-cultures the working class were able to attain the own alternative norms and values through the status can be gained. E.g the better they are at joy riding or spray painting on walls, the greater the prestige they receive.  

Hirsch has a different approach to crime and deviance he suggested that we should focus on different questions from the issue of why criminals commit crime; we should examine the controls placed on the people, he also argued that crime and deviance occurred when the controls are broken or weakened similar to Durkheim’s theory of anomie. Hirshi identified four ways of reducing crime and deviance; 


Attachment, People are under control is they care what others think of them. If they do not care they are free to be deviant. Thus the importance to have a social bound: people need the identify their family and peers, to develop a strong bond with them.  

Commitment, if people invest time their education or business they are likely to suffer loss if they are deviant, hence the reason why they are less likely to do so. 

Involvement, if people are involved or busy in activities they do not have time or the opportunity or get in involved with criminal behaviour.    

Belief, People need to have strong commitment to cultural goals, in this sense it is clear that control theory believes that there is a common value system. They need to respect the authority.   

In this regard Hirschi concept has connection to opportunity. It also implies that structure in society is important in establishing to tackle crime. 


The Structuralist theory has as an impact on policy in that it encourages the institutions in society. theorist such as Durkheim and Merton go further in expanding the feeling of norm-less-ness of ‘anomie’ which seems to be one of the main cause crime and deviance. The bond of family and friends are most powerful, according to this theory. Merton further expands by breaking down why individuals change to crime as not being able to fulfil their goal as they do not always have the means to achieve them. Cohen argues that saying that not everyone has a material or any goal at all. They decided to conform to crime as they feel like they cannot live up to the values of the middle class society. Cohen futher expands it by talking about sub-cultures and non-utitrian crime. Hirshi finishes of by having a different aprrouch and even encouraging opportunity’s 


  • Created by: Rahima
  • Created on: 30-12-12 10:39


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