Sociology A2 Crime and Deviance Notes


Functionalist, Strain and Subcultural Theories

Functionalism -

Inevitability of crime -

Although functionalists see too much crime as destabilising society, they see crime as inevitable and universal. Durkheim says ‘crime is normal… an integral part of all healthy societies’. One reason for this is not everyone is equally effectively socialised into the shared norms and values. Secondly, there is a diversity of lifestyles. Different groups develop their own subcultures with distinctive norms and values. In Durkheim’s view, modern societies tend towards anomie. This is because modern societies have a complex, specialised division of labour which leads to individuals becoming increasingly different from one another, weakening the collective conscience. Which Durkheim sees as a cause of suicide.

Positive functions of crime - 

For Durkheim, crime fulfils two important positive functions. One is boundary maintenance. Crime produces a reaction from society, uniting its members in condemnation of the wrongdoer and reinforcing their commitment to the shared norms and values. This explains the function of punishment. It is not to make the wrongdoer suffer or reform, nor to remove crime, the purpose is to reaffirm society’s shared values and reinforce social solidarity. This may be done through courtroom rituals, which dramatise wrongdoing and publicly shame and stigmatise the offender, reaffirming the values of abiding citizens and discourages rule breaking. The second function is adaptation and change. For Durkheim, all change starts with an act of deviance. Those with new ideas, values and ways of living must not be completely stifled by the weight of social control. There must be scope for them to challenge and changes existing norms and values, which all appear as deviance. If those with new ideas are suppressed, society will stagnate and be unable to make necessary adaptive changes. Thus neither a very high or very low crime rate is desirable. Each of these signals malfunctioning in the social system. Too much threatens society’s bonds and too little means society is repressing.

Other functions - 

Davis argues prostitution acts as a safety valve for the release of men’s sexual frustrations without threatening the family. Polsky argues *********** safely channels desires away from alternatives, like adultery. Cohen says a function of crime is it is a warning an institution is not functioning properly. For example, high truancy shows problems with the education system.

Criticisms - 

Durkheim offers no way of knowing how much crime is the right amount.

Functionalism ignores how crime affects groups or individuals.

Crime does not always promote solidarity, it may lead to people feeling isolated.

Strain Theory - 

This argues people engage in deviant behaviour when they are unable to achieve socially approved goals by legitimate means. Merton adapted Durkheim’s concept of anomie to explain deviance. Merton’s explanation combines structural factors - society’s unequal opportunity structure - and cultural factors - the strong emphasis on success goals and the weaker emphasis on using legitimate means. Merton says deviance is the result of a strain between the goals a culture encourages and what the institutional structure of


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