Functionalists, strain and subcultural theories

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Durkheim's Functionalist Theory of Crime

  • Crime produces social solidarity, binds individuals together into a harmonious unit
  • To achieve a harmonious unit, society has two mechanisms: Socialisation and Social Control

Crime is inevitable:

  • Crime is a normal part of all healthy societies
  • Shared rules of behaviour become less clear
  • Durkheim calls this anomie
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Durkheim's Positive Functions of Crime

Crime fulfills TWO positive functions:

1. Boundary Maintenance

  • Crime produces a reaction which unites its members from the wrongdoer and reinforcing value consensus
  • Reaffirms shared rules and reinforces social solidarity

2. Adaptation and Change

  • Change all starts as deviance
  • Individuals will challenge existing norms but supress them as society will not adapt to their changes and will stagnate
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Functionalists other positive functions of devianc

1. Davis' Safety valve: Prostitution acts to release men's sexual frustations without threatening the nuclear family

2.  Cohen's warning light: Indicates that there is malfunctioning in institutions e.g. education

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Criticisms of Durkheim

  • Ignores how crime might affect victims
  • No way of knowing how much deviance is the right amount
  • Crime does explain why it exists in the first place
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Merton's strain theory

Key Points: People in engage is deviant behaviour when they can not achieve socially accepted goals legitamately because of structural factors and cultural factors.

Structural factors: Society's unequal opportunity structure

Cultural factors: The emphasis on goals and using legitimate means to achieve them

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Merton's strain theory - The American Dream

  • Deviance is the result of strain between the goals a culture encourages individuals to aim and what the structure of society allows them to achieve legitimately. 
  • Americans are expected to achieve goals through legitimate means e.g. education
  • Ideology that American society is meritocratic - poverty and discrimination block opportunities to achieve goals by legitimate means
  • Lack of opportunities produce frustration and pressures to achieve goals through illegitimately
  • Winning the game is more important than playing by the rules
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Merton's adaptation to strain

Individual's positions affect how they adapt to the strain of anomie

1. Conformity - Accepts culturally approved goals and strives for them legitimately > Middle class

2. Innovation - Accepts money success goals but uses illegitamately means e.g. theft > Working Class

3. Ritualism - Gives up on goals but follows the rules for own sake > Lower Middle Class

4. Retreatism - Rejects both goals and legitimate means and drops out of society > Addicts and vagrants

5. Rebellion - Replace existing goals and creates new ones to bring social change > Political Radicals

C     I     R     R    R

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Merton's strengths

  • Shows how normal and deviant behaviour can arise from mainstream goals
  • Conformists and innovators pursue same goals but by different means

Research methods strengths:

  • Most crime is property crime thus American society values material wealth 
  • Patterns are shown in official statistics
  • W/C crime rates are higher because they have the least opportunity to achieve them legitimately.

Evalation of Merton:


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Cohen's Status Frustration

Deviance results from the lower classes' inability to achieve through mainstram goals. 

Cohen criticisms on Merton's explanation:

  • Ignores group deviance
  • ignores utilitarian crim e.g. assult 

Cohen's ideas:

  • W/C boys face anomie in the MC education system
  • W/C boys are culturally deprived and lack the skills to achieve 
  • Suffers status frustration and turn to other in the same situation thus forming a subculture 
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Cohen's alternative status hierarchy

Subcultures offer an illegitimate opportunity structure for bots who fail to achieve legitimately

  • Subcultures provive an alternative status hierarchy by winning through deliquent actions
  • Subcultures inverts mainstreams values
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Cloward and Ohlin's 3 Subcultures

Agrees with Merton, WC boys are denied legitimate opportunities to achieve goals

  • Not every adapts to a lack of legitimate opportunites. 
  • Some subcultures resort to violence, others turn to drugs
  • Different neighborhoods provide different illegitmate opportunies to learn criminal careers. 

1. Criminal Subcultures - Provides youth with an apprenticeship in utilitarian crime. 

2. Conflict Subcultures - Violence provides a release for frustration at blocked opportunities which are within lossely organised gangs.

3. Retreatist Subcultures - Double failures who resort to illegal drug uses

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Evaluation of Cloward and Ohlin

  • Ignores crimes of the wealthy and over-predicts WC crimes
  • Explains different types of WC deviance in terms of different subcultures
  • Cohen's and Cloward and Ohlin is a reactive theory - Exlains deviant subcultures as forming in reaction the failiure to achieve mainstream success goals. Wrongly assumes everyones starts of sharing the same goals. 
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