Evaluate the usefulness of functionalist explanations of crime & deviance [45 Marks]

  • Created by: Darnell
  • Created on: 11-10-14 21:12


Define - Crime and Deviance;
-A crime is any act which breaks legal rules and can lead to official punishment, potentially leading to sanctioning ranging from fines to the death penalty.
-To deviate means to stray from an accepted path, an idea that most sociological definitions simply elaborate on, therefore deviance consists of acts that don't follow societal norms and expectations.
-Functionalists see the source of crime and deviance as located in the structure of society, not in the individual, and many functionalist writers argue a certrain amount of deviance has a beneficial effect for the maintenance and well-being of society.

Fuctionalists favour statistics as an approach to looking at crime and deviance, as they believe it gives a valid representation of crime figures across the U.K and gives a mould of the 'typical criminal'. However, we know this not to be true due to the hidden figures of crime.

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Main - Durkheim

Crime Is Inevitable - Anomie;
-Functionalist Durkheim saw crime as an inevitable and normal aspect of social life that is found in all societies, which was due to not everyone being effectively socialised into the shared norms and values (which he referred to as 'anomie', meaning normlessness).
-Anomie is present when formal social controls and moral obligations are too weak to function effectively.
-Durkheim associated a growth in anomie with a shift towards a more individualistic society, such as the period of industrialisation
Postive Function + Example;
-He argues that crime performs positive functions for society, one example being that it strengthens collective values, as the function of punishment is not to remove crime in society, but remind people of the boundaries between right and wrong, therefore serving to reaffirm society's shared rules and reinforce social solidarity

-Durkheim's work has made an important contribution to the functionalist perspective on crime with his concept of anomie as well as contributing to the march of progress.

- By saying that crime is beneficial for society, he ignores the victims, a criticism later taken up by Realist Theories. He also doesn't give a sufficient explanation for why people commit crimes in the first place, which is explained by Robert Merton's 'Strain Theory'.

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Main - Mertons 'Strain Theory'

-Functionalist Merton suggested deviance is a result of strain between the goals that a culture encourages individuals to achieve and what the instituional structure of their society allows them to achieve legitimately
-This produces frustration and pressure to resort to illegitimate means such as crime and deviance. Merton calls this pressure to deviate 'the strain to anomie'.
2 forms of Response;
-Two of the five ways Merton suggests an individual can respond to this strain are Innovation and Retreatism.
-Innovation is when an individual rejects the legitimate means to 'success' and turns to deviant means, in particular crime, to achieve their goals. Members at the lower end of the class structure are most likely to enter this route.
-Retreatism is when an individual rejects both the goals of success and the means of achieving them, essentially 'dropping out' of society.
-He shows how normal and deviant behaviour can arise from the same set of goals, however it only accounts for utalitarian crimes and not crimes of violence or vandalism.
-Also explains the patterns shown in official crime statistics like how most crime in America is property crime as they value wealth so highly, however he takes these statistics at face value, despite the fact that they over-represent working class crimes.

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Main - Subcultural Theories & Cohen

-Attempt to explain deviance in terms of the subculture of a social group
-Argue that certain social groups develop norms and values that differ from the consensus and are provided with an alternative opportunity structure for those who are denied the chance to achieve by legitimate means
Cohen - Status Frustration
-Responded to criticisms of Mertons theory, but agreed that while lower working-class hold the success goals of mainstream culture, they still have little opportunity to achieve them due to educational failure and low paid jobs
-This causes Status Frustration, which they resolve by replacing mainstream goals with an alternative set of norms and values, resulting in a delinquent subculture
-This subculure has an alternative status hierarchy where value is placed on deviance, and the positive rewards consist of status and prestige in the eyes of peers.
-Ideas of Status Frustration and Alternative Status Hierarchy have been widely used in the sociology of deviance, and offers an explanation on non-utalitarian deviance among the working class
-Assumes that W/C boys start off by sharing middle-class success goals, ignoring possibility that they never shared the same goals to start with. Margaret Collinson argues that subcultural theory is largely androcentric, meaning SCT may be more about masculinity than subcultures.

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Main - Subcultural Theories, Miller & Ecology Theo

Miller - Focal Concerns
-Functionalist Miller sees male working class delinquent behaviour as a normal part of macho lower class culture, or 'focal concerns', into which they are socialised. Examples of these values are; toughness, excitement, autonomy, smartness, fate and trouble.
-Identified from sample of high number of delinquent boys from female-headed SPF's
-Claimed such boys sought masculine status through peer group activites such as fighting

-Offers an alternative subcultural view to Cohen, Cloward and Ohlin, in that he suggests that the lower W/C have their own independent subculture in which they don't value success to start with so aren't frustrated by failure.
-Has been criticised for portraying the lower class as having their own cultural values. However, Marxist Box notes that many of the focal concerns he describes are distributed throughout society, for example in a middle class rugby team.

Ecology Theory;
-Cloward and Ohlin have looked at area as an indicator of crime and deviant behaviour, an idea that has been developed on with the Ecology Theory

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Critique - Matza's Theory of 'Drift' and Subterran

-Interactionist micro-approach that lead him to focus upon motivation and meaning of actions
-Saw experiences of most young people as ordinary; who drift into deviance as a normal part of growing up
-Conceded that lower class are more likely to drift via fatalism

Subterranean Values;
-Feels we all hold 'subterranean values' when greed, sexuality or aggressiveness emerge, but most learn to suppress them.
-We use 'techniques of neutralisation' (excuses) to subside feelings of guilt or to justify our actions, including denial of responsibility, denial of victim, appealing to higher loyalties ect. eg fighting to defend a friend.

-Marks a radical step back from the sociological determinism of Subcultural Theory, arguing that we all share subcultural values, whilst deviant youth often identify with mainstream values
-Marxists would criticise for failing to place delinquency into a wider structural framework of economic and social circumstances

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Conclusion - Overall Evaluation

-Whilst Subcultural Theory has a lot of sociological support, Marxists argue it ignores the crimes of the powerful and the roles they play in the creation and enforcement of laws
-Feminists argue strain and subcultural theories are guilty of 'malestream bias' by focusing on the crimes of males
-Postmodernists argue these theories attempt to apply rational explanations to crime and deviance, ignoring the important role emotion plays. Katz argues that SC theorists ignore the factor of the thrill of the crime. Fighting and joy riding provide exampls of irrational pleasures derived from transgression, often due to boredom.

-Focuses too much on male W/C youths to the exclusion of other social groups
-Not critical enough of the view that we all share success values
>>>> -Despite this difficulty, it has been embraced by sociologists outside the functionalist perspective. This suggests that as an explanation of crime and deviance it has some weight. <<<<

Mooney Link - Question the question

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