Durkheim's Functionalist theory


 Durkheim’s functionalist theory:

- Functionalists see society as a stable system based on value consensus – shared norms, values, beliefs and goals.

- This produces social solidarity, binding individuals together into harmonious unit. 2 key mechanisms to achieve solidarity:

  • Socialisation instils shared culture into members to ensure they internalise the same norms and values, and that they feel it right to act in the ways that society requires.
  • Social control mechanisms include rewards (positive sanctions) for conformity, and punishments (negative sanctions) for deviance, ensures individuals behave in the way society expects.

- Crime disrupts social stability but it is inevitable and universal. Durkheim believes “crime is normal… an integral part of healthy societies”.

  • In every society, some individuals inadequately socialised and prone to deviate.
  • In modern societies, there is highly specialised division of labour and diversity of subcultures. Individuals and groups become increasingly different from each other, they may develop distinctive norms and values. Diversity means shared culture or collective conscience weakened. In Durkheim’s view there is tendency towards anomie (normlessness) – the rules governing behaviour becomes less clear. Durkheim sees anomie as major cause of suicide. 

- Durkheim: crime fulfils two positive functions:

  • Boundary maintenance - crime produces reaction from society, uniting its members in condemnation of wrongdoer and reinforcing their commitment to value consensus. Therefore, function of punishment is to reaffirm shared rules and reinforce solidarity.


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