Functionalist, strain and subcultural theories

A2 sociology - crime and deviance revision 

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  • Created by: Gemma
  • Created on: 15-03-12 20:18

durkheim's functionalist theory of crime

  • Society is a stable system based on value consensus (shared norms, values, beliefs and goals) which produces social solidarity. 
  • It does this by socialisation and social control (rewards and punishments)
  • Crime is inevitable and universal. Durkheim - crime is a normal part of all healthy societies because in every society there is someone who is inadequately socialised and due to a diversity of subcultures, shared rules become less clear
  • Durkheim - crime fulfils two important functions: boundary maintenance (crime unites its members against the wrong doer which reinforces their commitment to value consensus and punishment reaffirms shared rules and reinforces solidarity) and adaptation and change (for change to occur, people must push boundaries - seen as deviant to start with)
  • It also has a safety value (prosetution means men can release sexual frustration without threatening the nuclear family) and warning lights (deviance indicates that an institution is malfunctioning).
  • Criticisms: Durkheim doesn't show how much is the right amount of deviance. Even though crime has functions, it doesn't explain why it exists in the first place. 
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merton's strain theory

  • Merton: People engage in deviant behaviour when they cannot achieve socially approved goals by legitimate means because of structual factors (society's unequal opportunity structure) and cultural factors (a strong emphasis on sucess goals and weaker emphasis on how to achieve them)
  • An example is the American Dream: it emphasises money sucess and americans are meant to achieve this goal via legitimate means such as education and hard work. However, poverty and discrimination block opportunities which results in a strain between goals and opportunities which produces frustration and pressure to resort to illegimate means
  • Deviant adapations to strain: conformity (accept goals, achieve them legimiately) innovation (accept goals but illegitimately achieve them) ritualism (give up on goals but follow rules) retreatism (reject goals and legitimate means) and rebellion (replace goals with new ones to bring social change)
  • This approach is good because: it shows how normal and deviant behaviour can arise from the same goals, explains official stats patterns (most crime is poverty crime - money is important and most crime is working class - they have least opporuntities)
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a. k cohen status frustration

  • Cohen agrees that much deviance results from the lower classes' inability to achieve mainstream success goals by legitimate means such as education. However he criticises Merton's explanation because: Merton ignores group deviance of delinquent subcultures and he focuses on utilitarian crime for material gain (eg theft) rather than other crimes such as assault and vandalism which have no economic motive
  • Cohen notes that working class boys face anomie in the middle class education system. They are culturally deprived and lack skills to achieve. As a result they suffer from status frustration which they resolve by rejecting mainstream middle class values and they turn to subcultures
  • For Cohen, subcultures offer an illegitimate opportunity structure for boys who have failed to achieve legitimately. They subcultures provide an alternative status hierarchy where they can win status through delinquent actions. Its values are against mainstream values
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cloward and ohlin: three subcultures

  • Cloward and Ohlin agree that working class youths are denied legitimate opportunities to achieve - their deviance stems as a response to this
  • But they say that not everyone adapts by turning to utilitarian crime, some subcultures resort to violence, others to drug use
  • In their view, the key reason for this is unequal access to illegitimate opportunities. Therefore, three subcultures result: criminal subcultures (provide youths with an apprenticeship in utilitarian crime. normally found in neighbourhoods with long standing, stable criminal cultures), conflict subcultures (in areas with a high population turnover, loosely organised gangs - violence to win turf) and retreatist subcultures (fail in legitimate and illegitimate opportunities - turn to drug use)
  • Evaluation: they ignore the crimes of the wealthy and over predict working class crime, but they try to explain different types of working class deviance in terms of different subcultures. However, they draw boundaries too sharply.
  • This theory is a reactive theory (they explain deviance as a reaction to not achieving mainstream goals) which wrongly assumes everyone has the same goals. 
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