Functionalist theory

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  • Created by: ClaryFray
  • Created on: 24-08-15 14:12

How is crime a healthy part of society?

According to functionalists a certain amount of crime is normal and a healthy part of society as:

• Boundaries of acceptance behaviours are made known by the arrest of those who transgress/ break the rules. BOUNDARY MAINTAINANCE

• Strengthens social bonds between people and reaffirms values. COLLECTIVE CONSCIENCE when they are drawn together by horrific crimes

• Public opinion on crime acts like a gauge and can cause a change in the law SOCIAL CHANGE i.e. homosexuality

• SAFETY VALVE e.g. men have sexual frustrations, prostitution is a way of letting of this steam that may threaten the family.


• JOBS. There are lots of jobs provided for by crime e.g. police officer, lawyers, jail wardens

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Normative Definition

Sometimes societies will arrange for regulating deviant behaviours e.g. Notting Hill Carnival

Functionalism provides a normative definition of crime and deviance. This means it is an action which consists of a violation from social norms.

Durkheim describes too much crime as normlessness or anomie.

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Merton and Anomie

Merton thinks anomie is too vague. He says that everyone has the same goal but we all start in different places. Anomie is the gap between where we start and what we’re trying to get to. There is tremendous cultural stress on being successful (the goal) but not everyone can follow the acceptable way (the means). Thus the burning desire to achieve the socially stressed goals actively promotes deviant behaviour.

Merton says how you react to the gap is the type of deviance you are.

Conformity: continuing to accept the goals and the means set by society even though failure is a likely outcome.  

Innovation: accepts the goals of society but rejects the socially acceptable means.

Ritualism: means to the goals are accepted, lose sight of the goals goes through the motions but have no real interest in the outcome

Retreatism: both means and goals are forgotten, drops out of the rat race. Turns to substance abuse.

Rebellion: redefine society's goals and create new institutional means or work outside the system to pursue them. 

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