C + D topic 2

Functionalist explanations 

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  • Created by: Sasha127
  • Created on: 04-04-15 15:43


  • Functionalists are structural sociologists who regard those structures as based upon the shared norms and values of society. 
  • tend to have an optomistic veiw of society beleiving institutional adjustment and reform is all thats needed to tackle social problems.
  • beleive some criminal and deviant activity can be benificial to society as it can act as a sign that there needs to be institutional or legal change however too much crime and deviance is a social problem and requires a structural and institutional responce. 
  • The founding father of functionalist thinking in relation to crime and deviance is Durkheim 
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Durkheim and crime

  • He beleived crime and deviance was ey to understanding hiw society functions and identified two different sides of crime and deviance for the functioning society a positive side which helped society change and remain dynamic second a negative side which saw too much crime leading to social disruption. 

Positive aspects of crime

  • he beleived a limited amount of crime was neccacary for any society and argued that the basis of society was a set of shared values which guide our actions = collective conscience.The collective concience provides a framework with boundries which distinguish between actions which are acceptable and those which are not. The problem society faces is that the boundries aren't clear and they change over time its clarifying these boundries and and the changes that a limited amount of crime has its place. 
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Durkheims 4 positive aspects of crime

  • re affirming boundries 
  • Everytime someone breaks the law and is taken to court the resulting court ceremony and the publicity in the newspapers publicly re afirms the existing values. This is particularaly clear in societies where public punishments take place where the murderer is executed in public and the adulterer stoned to death. 
  • Changing values
  • Every so often when a persons taken to court and charged with a crime a degree of sympathy occurs for the person being prosecuted. The resulting public outcry signals a change in values and in time this can lead to a change in law to reflect the changing values ie change of social attitudes towards canabis 
  • Social cohesion
  • when a particularaly horrifying crime is commited the community bands together in shared outrage and the sense of bellonging to a community is thereby strengthened.  ie the twin towers attack.
  • Safety valve
  • they are a form of pressure release i.e a husband sleeping with a prostitute instead of haivng an affair and leaving family fatherless.
  • furthermore it provides employment courts, police etc.
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Durkheims Negative aspects of crime

  • anomie
  • society is based on people sharing values which forms the basis of their actions however in periods of great social change or stress the collective concious may be weakened and people may feel free from the social control imposed by the collective conscience and start to look after their own selfish interests rather than adhering to social values.
  • He called this situation anomie where a collape of the collective concious has occured and amomie exists crime rates rocket, only by re imposing collective values can the situation be brought back under control
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Evaluation of Durkheim

  • he was one of the first socioloigits to offer a detailed explanation of the causes of crime
  • assumes value concensus to deviate from
  • fails to identify and theorise role of subcultures in the creation of crime
  • some see him as nieve for accepting official stats as valid
  • fails to explore motivations and meanings individuals give to deviant acts.
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Hirschi and crime- why don't people commit crime

Argues that people commit crime when peoples attachment to society is weakened in some way. This attachment depends upon the strength of the social bonds which hold people to society.

  • comitment- peoples personal investments in their lives what they have to loose if they commit a crime.
  • Attachment- what extent do we care for others opinions and wishes
  • Beleif- how strong a persons snese that they should obey the rules of society.
  • Involvment- how busy are they? is there time and space for law breaking and deviant behaviour.

Therefor the greater you're attachment to society the lower the level of crime.

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Evaluation of Hirchi

  • Interesting as focuses on reasons for conformity rather than reasons for deviance. 
  • The bonds he identified are taught through the process of socialisation however sometimes social bonds can be used to explain deviance i.e attachment can lead people to crime because of loyalty to their peer group or subculture. 
  • asumes value concensus. 
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Key study: Merton Strain theory

  • in the 1930's merton attempted to locate devince within the functionalist framework. he beleived crime and deviance was evidence of a poor fit or a strain between the socially accepted goals of society and the socially aproved means of obtaining those desired goals. The resulting strain lead to deviance. 

he argued that all societies set their members certain goals and provide sociallly aceptable ways of acheiving them. Merton was aware that not everyone shared the same goals and pointed out in a stratified society the goals were linked to a persons position in the socia structure - the lower down had restricted goals. 

The system worked well as long as there was a reasonable chance that a magority of people were able to acheive their goals however when the magority of the population were unable to acheive the goals then they became disenchanted with society and sought out alternative deviant ways of behaving. He used durkheims term anomie to describe this situation. 

He beleived that the goal of society was economic and material wealth above all else and tha tthe means provide to acheive these goals were hard work and educational acheivment. 

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Mertons 4 responces to strain

Therefor different forms of behaviour could be understood as a strain between goals and means. 

People respond to strain in 4 different ways:

Conformity- here the individual continues to adhere to both gols and means despite the limited likelyhood of success

Innovation- the person accepts the goals of society but uses different ways to acheive those goals. Ciminal behaviour is inclided in this responce.

Ritualism- the means used by the individual, but sight of the actual goal is lost ie police officer enforcing the law without thinking about the meaning of justice.

Retreatism- individual rejects both goals and means ie alchohlic 

Rebellion- both the socially sanctioned goals and means are rejected and different ones substained ie political activist or religeous fundamentalist. 

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Evaluation of Merton

  • taylor- fails to consider wider power relations in society doesn't adress who creates the law and who it benefits. 
  • is there a vlaue concensus in american society?
  • do people only deviate because of structural strain?
  • that most crime is commited by the wc
  • that crime is an individual responce to an individual position in the stratification system (ignores influcence of subcultures)
  • Taylor, Walton and Young- argue that the theory cannot acount for politically motivated crime where the law is broken because of the commitment to a cause i.e affluent workers try to break trade union laws.
  • Reiner- defends merton arguing his theory can be adapted to take into account most of these criticisms i.e even non materialist crimes such as domestic violence and politically motivated crimes are indirectly related to status frustration
  • Jock youngs work the "vertigo of late modernity" is v influenced by merton (see notes for full theory)
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