Topic 1 - Functionalist, strain and subcultural theories

Durkheim's Functionalist Theory of Crime 


Functionalist - Durkhiem's Theory of Crime - 1

Durkheim’s functionalist theory of crime 

Functionalist sees society as a stable system based on value consensus.

This produces social solidarity, binding individuals together into a harmonious unit.  

Society has 2 key mechanisms: 

1.     Socialisation 

2.     Social control 

Crime is inevitable and universal 

  • Durkheim sees crime as a normal part of all healthy societies. 
  • In every society, some individuals are inadequately socialised and prone to deviate. 
  • In modern societies, there is a highly specialised division of labour and a diversity of subcultures.
  • Individuals and groups become increasingly different from one another and the shared rules of behaviour become less clear. Durkheim calls this ANOMIE - Normlessness. 
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Functionalist - Durkhiem's Theory of Crime - 2

Durkheim says there are 2 positive functions of crime:

1.     Boundary Maintenance- Crime produces a reaction from society, uniting its members against the wrongdoer and reinforcing their commitment to the value consensus.

2.      Adaption and Change - For change to occur, individuals with new ideas must challenge existing norms and at first this will appear as deviance. If this is suppressed, society will be unable to make necessary adaptive changes and will stagnate.

  • Safety valve - Davis argues that prostitution acts to release men's sexual frustrations without threatening the nuclear family. 
  • Warning light - A.K. Cohen argues that deviance indicates that an institution is malfunctioning.


  • Durkheim claims society requires a certain amount of deviance to function but offers no way of knowing how much is the right amount. 
  • Functionalists assume crime performs positive functions for society a whole. E.g.: prompting solidarity, but ignores how it might affect individuals within it. - E.g.: crime obviously isn't functional for its victims. 
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