Functionalism- CRIME & DEVIANCE

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  • Created by: Rayhana
  • Created on: 08-04-13 14:31

Durkheim's Functionalist Theory of Crime

He argues:

  • Crime is a normal part of a healthy society
  • In every society some are inadequately socialised-prone to deviate
  • People become different from one another-shared rules of behaviour less clear (anomie)

Crime fulfils 2 important positive functions:

1. Boundary Maintenance

  • Crime produces reaction from society, 
  • Unites members against wrongdoer
  • Reinforces their commitment to value consensus
  • Function of punishment: reaffirm shared values & reinforce solidarity

2. Adaptation & Change

  • For change to happen must start with deviant individuals with new ideas
  • They must challenge existing norms and will appear as deviance at first
  • If this is not ended society will not be able to make adaptive changes & will stagnate

Other Positive Functions of Deviance For Society:

  • Davis- brings safety value, prostitution acts release sexual frustration by men without threatening the nuclear family
  • Cohen-gives an indication where society is malfunctioning (institution in society) e.g. high truancy rates==education system
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Criticisms of Durkheim

  • Claims society requires specific amount of deviance in order to function normally as part of a healthy society.
  • However, offers no explanation of how much is the right amount
  • Durkheim & other functionalists explain crime in regards to its function e.g. strengthen social solidarity.
  • However, just because crime does these things does not neccessarily mean this is why it exists in the first place.
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Merton's Strain Theory

He argues:

  • Individuals turn to crime when they cannot achieve socially approved goals in a legitimate way.
  • Deviance is the result of a strain between the goals of a culture encourages individuals to aim for & what the structure of a society actually allows them to achieve legitimately.

He combines his explanations in 2:

  • Structural Factors- society's unequal opportunity structure
  • Cultural Factors- strong emphasis society has on success goals & weak emphasis on using legitimate means to achieve them.

American Dream:

  • Emphasis on money sucess. Americans expected to pursue this goal by legitimate means e.g. education, hard work.
  • Ideology of it all- claims society is meritocratic (system based only on inidividual ability & achievement).
  • In reality, poverty & discrimination block opportunities to achieve by legitimate means.
  • This strain of not being able to achieve the cultural goals because of the lack of legitimate opportunities produces pressure & frustration to achieve such goals through illegitimate means.
  • American culture only adds on pressure to achieve goals of money & being successful at any price even if it breaks the laws of society.
  • Winning the game is more important than playing by the rules'.

5 Adaptations To Strain:

1. Conformity- accept cultural goals & work to achieve them legitimately

2. Innovation- accept cultural goals but use illegitimate means to achieve them e.g. theft.

3. Ritualism- give up on goals but still follow rules for own sake.

4. Retreatism- reject goals & legitimate means, drops out of society.

5. Rebellion- replace goals & means with new ones & aim to bring about social change.

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Strengths & Weaknesses of Merton's Approach


  • Shows how both normal & deviant behaviour can arise from the same mainstream goals e.g. innovators and conformists both pursue same goals but by different means.
  • Explains patterns in official stats~~most crime is property crime because American  society values wealth so much. Working-class crime rates are higher due to them having least opportunity to obtain wealth legitimately.


  • Takes official stats at face value.
  • Too deterministic, not all working-class people deviate.
  • Ignores power of ruling class to make & enforce laws.
  • Fails to explain crimes of the powerful
  • Cohen- Merton sees deviance as an individual response ignoring group deviance of delinquent subculture.
  • Ignores non-utilitarian crimes e.g. vandalism (no material gain) no economic motive.
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Albert Cohen's Status Frustration Theory

He argues:

  • Working-class boys face anomie in the middle class education system.
  • Culturally deprived, lack the skills to achieve leaving them at the bottom of the official status hierarchy.
  • This results in status frustration, in order to resolve this they reject mainstream middle class values & turn to others in their same situation, forming a subculture.

Alternative Status Hierarchy:

  • Provides boys with an alternative status hierarchy & an illegitimate opportunity structure
  • They can win status through deliquent actions
  • Values spite, hostility & hate for those outside the subcultural group
  • Inverts mainstream goals (opposite goals) what society praises it condemns.
  • For example, society values property, whereas boys gain status from vandalising it.
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Strengths & Weaknesses of Albert Cohen's Theory


  • Offers an explanation of non-utilitarian deviance among working-class unlike Merton who's theory only accounts for crime with a profit motive.


  • Assumes all working-class boys start off sharing middle class success goals, only to reject them when they fail.
  • Maybe they never even held these values in the first place so never saw themselves as failures.
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