Strengths Of Functionalism Crime And Deviance Essays

The Three Main Theories of Deviance and Their Strengths and Weaknesses

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The Three Main Theories of Deviance and Their Strengths and Weaknesses

A functionalist analysis of deviance looks for the source of deviance in the nature of society rather than in the biological or psychological nature of the individual. Although functionalists agree that social control mechanisms such as the police and the courts are necessary to keep deviance in check, many argue that a certain amount of deviance can contribute to the well-being of society.

Durkhiem (1895) believed that:

* Crime is an 'integral part of all healthy societies'. This is because individuals are exposed to different influences and will not be committed to the shared values and beliefs of society.…show more content…

In the USA, members of society strive for the goal of success, largely measured in terms of wealth and material possessions. The means of reaching this goal are through talent, ambition and effort. Unfortunately, Merton argues, little importance is given to the means of achieving success. The result is an unbalanced society where winning is all and the 'rules' are not very important. This situation of 'normlessness' is known as anomie. Individuals may respond in different ways:

· Conformity

The most common response is conformity. Conformists strive for success through the accepted channels.

· Innovation

People from lower classes may have few qualifications and turn to crime to achieve material success.

· Ritualism

Some people, particularly from the lower middle classes, may abandon the ultimate goal of wealth but continue to conform to the standards of the middle-class respectability.

· Retreatism

Retreatists are 'drop-outs' who have rejected both the shared value of success and the means provided to achieve it.

· Rebellion

Rebels reject both goals and means but replace them with different ones. They wish to create an entirely new kind of society.

Evaluation of Merton

1. Taylor criticises Merton for failing to consider wider power relations in society - that is, who actually makes the laws

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A Summary of Durkheim’s Functionalist Theory of why crime is necessary and functional for society.

Three of Durkheim’s Key Ideas About Crime 

  1. A limited amount of crime is necessary

  2. Crime has positive functions

  3. On the other hand, too much crime is bad for society and can help bring about its collapse. Refer here to Durkheim’s Theory of Suicide

One – Durkheim’s Argument for why Crime is Necessary 

  1. Not every member of society can be equally committed to the collective sentiments (the shared values and moral beliefs of society). Since individuals are exposed to different influences and circumstances.

  2. Durkheim says that even in a ‘society of saints’ populated by perfect individuals deviance would still exist. The general standards of behaviour would be so high that the slightest slip would be regarded as a serious offence. Thus the individual who simply showed bad taste, or was merely impolite, would attract strong disapproval.

  3. Durkheim argues that all social change begins with some form of deviance. In order for changes to occur, yesterday’s deviance becomes today’s norm.

Two – Crime Performs Positive Functions 

Three positive functions of crime include:

  1. SOCIAL REGULATION (reaffirming the boundaries of acceptable behaviour) – Each time the Police arrest a person, they are making it clear to the rest of society that the particular action concerned is unacceptable. In contemporary society newspapers also help to perform the publicity function, with their often-lurid accounts of criminal acts. In effect, the courts and the media are ‘broadcasting’ the boundaries of acceptable behaviour, warning others not to breach the walls of the law (and therefore society)

  1. SOCIAL INTEGRATION (Social Cohesion) – A second function of crime is to actually strengthen social cohesion. For example, when particularly horrific crimes have been committed the whole community joins together in outrage and the sense of belonging to a community is therefore strengthened

  1. Social Change – A further action performed by the criminals is to provide a constant test of the boundaries of permitted action. When the law is clearly out of step with the feelings and values of the majority, legal reform is necessary. Criminals therefore, perform a crucial service in helping the law to reflect the wishes of the population and legitimising social change.

Evaluations of the Functionalist View

  1. Durkheim talks about crime in very general terms. He theorizes that ‘crime’ is necessary and even functional but fails to distinguish between different types of crime. It could be that some crimes may be so harmful that they will always be dysfunctional rather than functional.

  2. Secondly, Durkheim is suggesting that the criminal justice system benefits everyone in society by punishing criminals and reinforcing the acceptable boundaries of behavior. However, Marxist and Feminist analysis of crime demonstrates that not all criminals are punished equally and thus crime and punishment benefit the powerful for than the powerless

  3. Interactionists would suggest that whether or not a crime is functional cannot be determined objectively; surely it depends on an individual’s relationship to the crime.

  4. Functionalists assume that society has universal norms and values that are reinforced by certain crimes being punished in public. Postmodernists argue society is so diverse, there is no such thing as ‘normal’. 

Revision Notes for Sale 

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my Crime and Deviance Revision Notes  – 31 pages of revision notes covering the following topics:

  1. Consensus based theories part 1 – Functionalism; Social control’ theory; Strain theory
  2. Consensus based theories part 2 – Sub cultural theories
  3. The Traditional Marxist and Neo-Marxist perspective on crime
  4. Labeling Theory
  5. Left- Realist and Right-Realist Criminology (including situational, environmental and community crime prevention)
  6. Post-Modernism, Late-Modernism and Crime (Social change and crime)
  7. Sociological Perspectives on  controlling crime – the role of the community and policing in preventing crime
  8. Sociological Perspectives on Surveillance
  9. Sociological Perspectives on Punishment
  10. Social Class and Crime
  11. Ethnicity and Crime
  12. Gender and crime  (including Girl gangs and Rape and domestic violence)
  13. Victimology – Why are some people more likely to be criminals than others
  14. Global crime, State crime and Environmental crime (Green crime)
  15. The Media and Crime, including moral panics

Useful Sources for learning more about Functionalism (and Strain Theory)

The above post is meant as a summary, the posts below are useful if you want more depth…

An 11 minute vodcast/ lecture on Functionalist theories of crime

An 11 minute vodcast/ lecture on Merton’s Strain Theory (includes Institutional Anomie Theory)

Twynham’s Functionalism and crime post offers a useful summary!

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