Sociology A2 Revision - Unit 4: Crime and Deviance (excluding theory and methods)

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Crime and Deviance


Functionalist theory of crime and deviance


Inevitability of crime

Functionalists such as Durkheim believe that crime is inevitable and normal in society. They argue there are least two reasons why crime and deviance are found in all societies:

-          Not everybody is effectively socialised into norms and values

-          There is a diversity of lifestyles, the boundaries governing behaviour become less clear-cut (anomie), especially in modern societies

The positive functions of crime

Durkheim believes that

-          Too much crime threatens the bonds of society

-          Too little crime means that society is controlling its members too much, stifling freedom

However, crime is still important for society and performs two positive functions:

Boundary maintenance

Durkheim argues that crime produces a reaction from society which unites members of society in condemnation of the wrongdoer and reinforces their commitment to the shared values (strengthens collective conscience).

For Durkheim this explains the function of punishment which is to reaffirm societies shared values and reinforce social solidarity. In this way it discourages others from rule breaking.

For example, the rituals of the courtroom publically stigmatise the offender which discourages others from offending. – As Cohen notes, the media may place a role in dramatising crime, creating ‘folk devils’.

Adaptation and change

Crime also has the positive function of driving change and adaptation. Durkheim believes that all change starts with an act of deviance when individual’s ideas go against existing norms and values. Initially these ideas will appear deviant, however in the long run their values may give rise to a new culture and morality. 

For example, the civil rights movement was originally seen as deviant but it has driven positive change which has become normal in current society.




Evaluation of the Functionalist Theory 


-          Others have developed on the Durkheim’s idea that deviance can have positive functions, For example, Cohen argues that crime acts as a warning that an institution is not functioning properly – high rates of truancy tell us there are problems with the education system. This allows policy makers to make improvements.

-          Erikson also supports the idea of crime performing positive functions, as he argues that perhaps society is organised to promote deviance for this reason. He suggests that the true function of social control agencies such as the police may be to sustain a certain level of crime rather than to reduce it. This could be explained by the labelling theory

-          Further support for positive functions, Davis puts forward the belief that prostitution acts as a safety valve for the release of men’s sexual frustration, without threatening the nuclear family

-          Similarly, Polsky argues that *********** safely ‘channels’ males desires away from adultery, which would pose a much greater strain on the family.


-          Durkheim argues society requires a certain level of crime but offers no explanation of what is the right amount

-          Although Functionalists explain the functions…


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