Functionalism & Crime



  • Inevitable – In all societies not everyone is equally socialised into the shared norms and values. Also a diversity of lifestyles and values means that different groups create their own subcultures that some societies may consider as deviant.
  • Anomie - Modern societies make people feel more anomie (normlessness). The complex, specialised division of labour and the weak rules that govern behaviour cause people feel different from one another, leading to a weaker collective conscience causing high levels of deviance and suicide.

Functions of crime;

  • Boundary maintenance – Crime unites it’s members in condemnation of the wrongdoer and reinforces their commitment to the shared norms and values.
  • Adaptation and change – All change starts with an act of deviance, there must be space for individuals to challenge the existing norms and values and not be stifled by the weight of social control, e.g. religious visionaries are often persecuted from introducing new messages or value systems but these ideas may allow for a new and improved culture and society.
  • Too little crime means society is repressing and controlling its members too much, stifling individual freedom and preventing change.
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Other functions of crime

  • Safety valve - Davis; Prostitution acts as a safety valve to release men’s sexual frustration without threatening the nuclear family.
  • Warning device - Cohen; High levels of deviance act as a warning device suggesting that an institution is not working properly, e.g. education system and truancy, policy changes must be made.
  • Usefulness - Functionalism shows ways in which deviance is integral to society, and provides an analysis that directs attention to the way deviance can have hidden functions for society; not everything that is bad is always bad for society.
  • CriticismsDurkheim doesn’t explain how much deviance is the right amount, just suggesting a ‘certain’ level of crime is good for society.
  • Doesn’t explain why crime exists in the first place just what it’s supposed function is.
  • Ignores how crime affects individuals, only how it's beneficial for society ‘functional for whom?’
  • Crime doesn’t always promote solidarity it might lead people to become isolated, e.g. forcing women indoors in fear of attack.
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Merton's strain theory

  • Strain is caused by the goals a culture encourages indivduals to achieve & what society allows them to achieve legitimately. E.g, the american dream encouraged people to achieve goals, but the society wasn't meritocratic so disadvantaged people deviated to achieve.
  • Deviant adaptations to strain - Conformity (accept goals, achieve them legitimately) Innovation (accept goals, achieve them illegitimately) Ritualism (give up achieving goals, still accept the means of working) Retreatism (reject the goals & means, drop out of society) Rebellion (reject goals & means, try to replace them with new ones, e.g, ISIS).
  • Usefulness - Shows how both normal & deviant behaviour is caused by working to achieve success, & explains the patterns in o/s that show most crime is property crime because material wealth is valued highly.  Lower class, higher crime rates, more strain.
  • Criticism - Marxists; takes o/s face value even though they over-represent w/c crime, ignoring ruling class laws that criminalise poor.
  • It is too deterministic, w/c may experience more strain but not all deviate. Assumes 'value consensus' that everyone wants to achieve the same goal of 'money & success'.
  • Ignores non-utilitarian crime such as; violence, or state crime like genocide. 
  • Cohen; only explains how individuals react to strain but doesn't explain group deviance like gangs.
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Subcultural strain theory

  • Deviance is a product of deliquent subcultures with values different from mainstream society, they offer mainly w/c groups illegitimate ways to achieve wealth.
  • Status frustration - Cohen; w/c boys feel anomie in a middle class dominated school system, they suffer from cultural depv & lack skills to achieve. They suffer from status frustration so they reject mainstream m/c culture & values to form deliquent subcultures with other boys. 
  • Alternative status hierarchy - Deliquent subculture inverted values of mainstream society, encouraging hostility or low school attendance. Boys gain value from following these inverted values, it helps them to create their own illegitimate opportunity structure, they win status from peers through delinquent actions. 
  • Usefulness - Offers an explanation for non-utilitarian deviance.
  • Criticism - Suggests that w/c boys want to achieve middle class success goals, they may have never shared these goals in the first place, so never saw themselves are failures. 
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Subcultural strain theory pt2

  • Three subcultures - Cloward & Ohlin; Criminal subcultures (in areas with established criminal culture, they provide youths with apprenticeships in utilitarian crime) Conflict (in areas of social disorganisation, only illegitimate opportunities are available in gangs, violence & claiming terrority provides them with status to release their frustration w/ blocked opportunities) Retreatist (not everyone can succeed in professional criminal life, or as a gang leader, so these 'double failures' turn to drug use).
  • Criticisms - Miller; not everyone shares the same values of success, w/c don't always value it.
  • They draw the line too sharply between groups which makes it seem impossible to belong to more than one, e.g, South; found that drug trade came from both professional criminal groups & gangs. 
  • Institutional anomie theory - Messner; America's obession w/ money success leads people to feel pressure to achieve wealth in anyway possible. 
  • Downes; survey on crime rates & welfare found that countries that spend a lot on welfare have low rates of imprisonment.
  • Savelsberg; crime in Europe had risen after communist values were replaced by Western capitalist goals of 'money success' 
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