Consensus Theory and Crime - Essay Plan

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The consensus theories tend to agree that society is made up of a structure of norms and values that are imposed by stable institutions, such as the nuclear family and school. These norms and values shape our behaviour as we grow up and conform to the processes of primary and secondary socialisation. Crime happens when individuals/groups are not properly socialised into society’s shared norms and values. Consensus theories argue that a healthy society is based on ‘value consensus’: shared values of society
and everyone working towards the same goals. They believe that crime is dysfunctional because it
means breaking value consensus.


Point: The first consensus theory is functionalism. Durkheim argued that crime in society performs
positive social functions.

Explain: It reaffirms social values because if someone commits a crime and is punished for it, it reaffirms
the value in society that this crime is bad. It provides social cohesion, because it brings communities
together in outrage or sadness when someone commits a crime, which creates a sense of belonging.
Crime can also change the values of society because sometimes when a person is charged, they receive sympathy if it’s not fair. Resulting public outcry can cause a change in values and the law. An example of
this is with the Michael Brown Case in Ferguson, Missouri.

Expand: The reason that Durkheim believed crime performs positive functions is because he believed
that crime was inevitable. He argued that even in a ‘society of saints’ there would still be crime and
deviance, because there would be such a high standard of behaviour that the littlest thing could be
regarded as a serious offence.

Criticise: Marxists argue that Functionalists assumes that there is a common value system of society
which people deviate from when this is not the case; people can have different values and norms
depending on what they see as right or wrong.


Point: Hirschi’s Bonds of Attachment Theory built on the work of Durkheim. He argued that crime
increases when a person’s attachment to society is weakened.

Explain: His theory is based on four factors: how attached we are to society in terms of to what extent
do we care about other people’s opinions and wishes, how committed we are to committing the crime
(what do we have to lose if we commit a crime), how involved we are in committing the crime (whether
we are too busy to break the law) and the strength of our belief that we should obey the rules of society.

Criticise: Cohen argued social control theory doesn't tell us why people commit crime, only explains crime in the absence of social control. It does not seem to explain all types of crime – involvement, for example, may not explain white collar or blue-collar crime because conforming to societal norms by working at the job does not mean that they


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