Crime And Deviance


Functionalist Theories

  • Functionalists think that society is a stable system of shared values, beliefs, goals and norms (value consensus). Because of this position it is a structuralist theory. The functionalist society is based on 2 things; socialisation and social control.
  • Although crime is generally a bad thing some functionalists believe crime is inevitable and can be beneficial.


He says crime occurs because some people aren't socialised adequately because we are all individuals and have different experiences, influences and circumstances. Also, modern society promotes a diverse and specialised labour force, and a diversity of subculture which can divide individuals and groups.

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Functionalist - Critcism


  • Shows how crime is integral to society, not everything that is bad is bad


  • We don't know how much crime is a good amount.
  • It doesn't explain why crime exists in the first place or where it comes from. 
  • Assumes that crime has some positive roles for society, but ignroes how it affects the individuals, especially how its functional for the victim or good
  • Crime could have the opposite affect, isolating people not connecting them 
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Strain Theory

Robert Merton

Tries to explain why deviant behaviour occurs. He suggests that people commit crime and do things that are deviant because they may not be able to achieve legitimate goals by legitimate means. He explains that in a unequal society there is less opportunity to get the legitimiate means legitimately, so they face a strain. 

He argues that there are 5 modes of adaptation:

Conformity: The non-deviant, non-criminal conformist citizen

Innovation: Can't achieve goals by approved means so they turn to crime

Ritualism: Give up on achieving golas but stick to means

Retreatism: Drop outs, give up altogether

Rebellion: Reject existing social goals and means but substitute new ones to create a new society.

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Strain Theory - Evaluation


  • Merton shows how both normal and deviant behaviour can come about from the same goals in society. Both pursue legitimate goals but by different means
  • He explains paterns in official statistics: the wroking class crime rates are overrepresented because they have less opportunity to use legitimate means


  • He assumes that all people agree on goals and means and accept them; this is not true
  • Doesn't explain why most people who are under strain don't turn to crime
  • Doesn't explain how they could be perfectly respectable people who seem to be obtaining their success by legitimate means, but actually doing illegal things. E.g. white collar crimes.
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Subculture Theories

  • Subcultural theories build upon the work of Merton. They say deviance is the result of individuals conforming to the values and norms of a social group to which they belong.


He said working class boys want to achieve success but have little chances of achieving them due to education and dead-end jobs etc. This results in status frustration. Cohen says that instead to turning to crime as Merton says, they reject the norms and values of mainstream society and instead turn to the norms and values from the rest of society. 

Cloward & Ohlin

They said that there are three different types of subcultures that young people might enter into. 

1) Criminal Subcultures - emerge in areas where there is a lot of organised crime (criminal role models)

2) Conflict Subcultures - emerge in areas where there is little organised crime 

3) Retreatist Subcultures - young people who have failed in the criminal subcultures

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Subculture Theories

Walter B. Miller

Deviant subculture doesn't arise from the inability of the members to achieve successl instead he said that crime is a result of the fact that theire is a lower-class subculture with different norms and values to the rest of society. He said these different values mean that for members of this culture there are a number of concerns and things people want to achieve. He called them focal concerns consisting of; toughness, smartness and excitement.


Delinquents convince themselves they are not breaking the law, and this allows them to commit crimes whilst still accepting society's norms and values. Matza said that within mainstream societies values there are subterranean values which promote the ideas of acting in the spur of the moment for excitement. 

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Subculture Theories - Evaluation


  • Unlike bonds of attachement theory it recognises that much of crme is done in groups


  • Contemporary research shows gange membership is more fluid than the above research suggests
  • Recent research shows that the underclass doesn't really exist and working class culture is more complex 
  • There is a much wider variety of subcultures today
  • It ignores the role of agents of social control labelling in subculture formation
  • It ignores the crime of the middle class
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Interactionist Perspective

  • They disagree with fucntionalists on both the idea that society has a consensus about what crime is and the idea that crime is caused by external forces. Blummer said everyone commits crime and deviance, but it is more important to look at the way society reacts to this behaviour.

Howard Becker

Said society creates rules, and by doing this anyone who acts outside of these rules is a deviant. He exclaims how the act in itself is not deviant, it is how we label that act that makes it deviant. Interactionists point out how in one context, an act is considered deviant, in another it is normal.

  • Interactionists say this labellng can lead to groups being victimized for crime. E.g. the police might label black youths as more likely to be criminal. They say this labellong can mean a person is singled out as deviant, this could result in the self-fulfilling prophecy of this person becoming the deviant as they were labelled.
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Interactionist Perspective - Evaluation


  • The interacitonist approach draws attention to the importance of labelling and societal reaction
  • It has also highlighted the fact that we have perceptions of a typical criminal


  • Fails to say why people commit crimes even when they know they are considered deviant
  • Interactionists also ignore why certain people are labelled as deviant and other people aren't
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Marxist Theories

  • Say crime can only be understood in terms of capitalism.
  • The criminal justice system is unfair on the working class and benefits the ruling class
  • Laws which protect the working class are only made to appease them so they don't figure out the injustice in the criminal justice system.
  • They say crimes committed by the ruling class go unpunished as they know how to get around them as they created the laws.
  • Crime occurs because of inequality and poverty
  • Explain how the real criminals are the rich who exploit the rest of us
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Marxist - Evaluation

  • It ignores the relationship between crime and important non-class variables such as ethnicity and gender.
  • The criminal justice system sometimes acts against the interested of the capitalist class
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Feminist Theory

  • Crime statistics tell us that men commit more crimes than wmen, and sociologists have different explanations as to why this is. 
  • Before feminism, women were invisible in the sociological perspective. Crime by women was explained by saying female criminals were a 'special case'. 


Girls have a stricter upbringing whereas boys are encouraged to take risks; boys also have more oportunities to commit crimes due to their freedom.


In the modern nuclear family men work and women stay at home and nurse. Therefore, women have more access to their role model than boys do as the father is working. Parsons said the boys will reject the mother as a role model and will seek to be more masculine through aggressive actions leading to crime.

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Feminist Theory

  • They say the ignorance of femal crime is because society is patriarchal and is focused on men, ignoring the women.
  • So feminists argue that the issue that other perspectives debate aren't really important ones - women are ignored
  • A vast amount of research has looked into the way in which the crimincal justice system might be gender biased. 
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Left Realism Theory

Jock Young

Said we need to be tough on crime, especially crimes committed by the working class against the working class.  

Crime is rooted in social conditions and crime is closely connected to deprivation. 

He explains how increased media influence could led to increased crime rates, as it leads to higher expectations so those in deprivation feel increased effects of relative deprevation. It is when people feel deprived in comparison to those arund them that they commit crimes. 

He said we should deal with crime by trying to decrease the levels of social deprivation. This could be through welfare, infrastrucure improvements or the creation of jobs. 

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Left Realism Theory - Evaluation


  • Lea and Young have highlighted the effects of crime on victims and the underlying causes of crime


  • There is little empirical evidence to support the view that young criminals interpret their realities in the way that Lea and Young describe 
  • They focus on street crime and ignore white collar crimes
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Right Realism Theory

Realist approaches say behaviour is determined by our choices we make, as we have free-will. 

Wilson & Hernstein

Criminal behaviour is a choice made by people who have been incorrectly socialised. They argue that society has become more and more used to 'immediate gratification'. They also said poor socialisation leads to a lack of self-control. 

Hirschi's control theory

We all face the temptation to commit crimes in life. However, most of us resist the temptation. This is because we have strong ties to social institutions. 

Charles Murray

Poor socialisation leads to crime but focussed on why this was more the underclass.Murray said the working class are subjected to 7 factors which lead to crime; violence, unemployment, poverty which leads to higher crime. 

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Right Realism Theory - Evaluation

  • The idea of an underclass is rejected and claims it is not a voluntary situation. It is said the 'underclass' have the same aspirations as the rest of the population.
  • It is doubtful that crime is underpinned by rationality
  • Class inequalities in victimization leads to paranoia and gated communities as the rich try to separate themselves from the poor.
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