THE INEVITABILITY OF
Functionalists believe crime is inevitable
and universal despite the fact they think it
makes society less stable.
Durkheim said “crime is normal… an
integral part of all healthy societies.”
WHY IS CRIME UNIVERSAL?
Durkheim identifies two reasons…
O Not everyone is equally and effectively socialised
into the shared norms and values, so some will
O The diversity of lifestyles and values. This means
that some norms in one culture may be deemed
deviant in another.
Durkheim says this is due to anomies in society.
Modern society has a more complex, specialised
division of labour. Therefore, the collective conscience
is weak, and so crime rates are on the rise.
THE POSITIVE FUNCTIONS
Nevertheless, Durkheim says crime
performs positive functions too…
O Boundary Maintenance
O Adaption and Change
Crime produces a reaction which unifies it’s members
in condemnation of the wrong doer. This reinforces
an individual’s commitment to the shared norms and
The purpose of punishment is to reaffirm society’s
shared rules and social solidarity. Courts can also
dramtise the wrong doing and publically stigmatise
the offender, which will prevent people from rule
ADAPTION AND CHANGE
All change starts with deviance. For example,
challenging existing norms and values is deemed a
deviant act, but it could give rise to a new culture. If
this doesn’t happen, society could stagnate and not
make necessary adaptive changes.
O Too much crime could tear society apart
O Too little crime could indicate that society is
repressing it’s members which results in no change
O Davis says prostitution acts as a ‘safety valve’ for the
release of men’s sexual frustration
O Polsky says porn safely channels a variety of sexual
desires resulting in less adultery
O Albert Cohen says some acts can indicate that an
institution isn’t functioning properly. For example,
truancy could highlight a fault in the education
O Erikson say that is crime can be seen as positive,
maybe society is organised to promote it? Is the job
of agencies to sustain a suitable level of crime?
Crime and festivals etc. license misbehaviour which
would normally be punished.
O Society doesn’t create crime in advance of
strengthening social solidarity.
O They do not consider the effect of
individuals; who is crime functional for?
MERTON’S STRAIN THEORY
Merton distinguishes between two factors
which led to him creating a strain theory.
O Structural: what the institutional structure
of society allows an individual to achieve
O Cultural: the goals a culture encourages
an individual to achieve.
THE AMERICAN DREAM
An American society is supposedly meritocratic, with
opportunities for all. However, the reality is that
disadvantaged groups are denied opportunities. The
strain between the cultural goal of money and success
and the lack of legitimate opportunities to achieve this
produces frustration, creating a pressure to deviate
(‘the strain to anomie’). This is increased by the fact
that more emphasis is put on achieving the goal than
there is on achieving it legitimately.
DEVIANT ADAPTATIONS TO
Merton identifies 5 responses to the strain of
O Conformity: accepting the goals of society and
striving to achieve them legitimately.
O Innovation: accepting the goals, but achieving them
O Ritualism: giving up on achieving the goals but
internalising legitimate means to achieve their own
O Retreatism: rejecting the goals and legitimate means
O Rebellion: rejecting the goals, and bringing in new
ones to be achieved via a revolution (e.g. Martin
Merton is useful for showing how normal and deviant
behaviour can arise from mainstream goals and
explaining patters in official statistics.
However, he is criticised…
O He takes crime statistics at face value and over
represents working class crime.
O He is too deterministic – not all of the working class
O Marxists argue he ignores the power of the working
O He assumes value consensus
Cohen also criticises Merton…
O He does not explain non-utilitarian crime
O He ignores group deviance
Cohen conducted a study which focused on
working class boys, each of whom were
culturally deprived. He found their lack of
skills to achieve the goals of society led to
frustration. In order to obtain a high status,
they joined a delinquent subculture.
Subcultures are characterised by spite,
malice and hostility and they invert the
values of mainstream society.
Cohen believes a subcultures’ function is to
offer an alternative status hierarchy through
delinquent acts, having failed legitimately.
This theory is useful because it offers an
explanation of non-utilitarian crime and
explains non-economic delinquency.
O He assumes the working class begin
sharing middle class values
O His study is gender bias
O He assumes all working class people will
resort to a subculture
Cloward and Ohlin identify three
subcultures which have arose due to
unequal access to illegitimate structures.
Which subculture depends on
O Criminal Subcultures: these provide an
apprenticeship in utilitarian crime. They are found in
neighbourhoods with a long standing criminal culture.
O Conflict Subculture: these are loose gangs which
provide a release for men with blocked opportunities.
They can be found in neighbourhoods with a high
population turnover, social disorganisation and no
professional crime network.
O Retreatist Subcultures: the members turn to illegal
drug use because they haven’t succeeded as a
criminal or gang leader. They can be found in any
Cloward and Ohlin are useful because they
provide an explanation of different types of
working class deviance.
Nevertheless, they have been criticised…
O South explains how the drug trade means being in more
than one subculture, but their theory doesn’t account for
O Some retreatists are professional dealers making a living
from utilitarian crime.
O Their theory is a ‘reactive’ one – they assume everyone
shares the same goal at first.
O Miller explains how the working class have their own
independent subculture separate from the mainstream
culture. Deviance occurs from trying to achieve goals of
their own (‘focal concerns’)
O Matza says most delinquents drift in and out of
Messner and Rosenfield’s theory focuses on the
American Dream (like Merton). They argue its
obsession with money and success and its ‘winner
takes all’ mentality exert ‘pressures towards crime by
encouraging an anomic cultural environment in
which people are encouraged to adopt an anything
goes mentality’. However, in the pursuit of wealth,
wealth is over focused and so things like manners
are not taught. Therefore, crime is inevitable.
O Downes and Hansen found that (through a survey)
societies that spent more on welfare had lower rates
of imprisonment. This supports Messner and
Rosenfield’s claim that societies that protect the poor
from the worst excesses of the free market have less
O Savelsberg applies the strain theory to post-communist
societies in Eastern Europe, which saw a
rapid rise in crime after the fall of communism in
1989. He attributes this rise to communism’s
collective values being replaced by new western
capitalist goals of ‘money success’
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A2 AQA Sociology - Functionalism on Crime and Deviance