Many people over the years have tried to explain why there is crime in our society. Functionalists focus on the source of deviance in the nature of society rather than biological and psychological explanations. Every functionalist agrees that social control mechanisms e. g. the police are necessary to keep deviance in check and therefore protecting social order. A main contributor to the functionalist theory of crime is Durkheim. He believed that society is based on a value consensus and that all members of society share a common culture that is a set of shared values, norms, beliefs and goals.
Durkheim suggested that by society sharing the same culture created social solidarity, thereby binding individuals together and telling them what to strive for and how to conduct themselves. According to Durkheim crime has 4 functions in society, the first being that crime and deviance is “inevitable and normal”. He suggested that crime is inevitable, normal and necessary for life. He said crime is inevitable because not everyone in society is going to be equally committed to the shared values and morals as we are all exposed to different influences.
Durkheim gave the example of “even in a ‘society of saints’ with no crime at all, such high standards of behaviour would make even the smallest deviant act e. g. burping stand out”, this backs up his suggestion of deviance is inevitable and it will always be present in society. The second function that Durkheim outlined is that crime helps society to evolve. He said “yesterday’s deviance must become today’s normality”, Durkheim believed the crime helps society to review the way it does things so we can learn from the deviance and mistakes.
Thirdly Durkheim outlined that crime is functional. He proposed that crime could be functional and only becomes dysfunctional when its level is unusually high or low. He said very low rates lead to stagnation, while high rates lead to social disorganisation and chaos. Durkheim believed that change was healthy and in order for society to change yesterday’s deviance must become today’s norm. Durkheim also stated that shared values and morals must be in moderate for their influence not to be strong on the population or deviance would occur as people would object.
We can see this with the actions of Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King who have all objected to the shared values and morals that have been too strong. The last function Durkheim believed crime gave to society is “crime can be positive”. He came up with two features, “boundary maintenance” and “adaptation and change”. Durkheim said crime produces a reaction for society, uniting its members in condemnation of the wrongdoers and reinforcing their commitment to the shared norms and values.
This is Durkheim’s way of describing punishment, which for him is to reaffirm society’s shared rules and reinforce social solidarity. Durkheim said this could be done though the courtroom which dramatises wrongdoing and publicly stigmatises the offender which reaffirms the values of the law-abiding majority and discourages others from rule breaking. The second feature is influenced by Durkheim’s belief that all change starts with an act of deviance. Durkheim believed there much be some wiggle room for individuals with new ideas, values and ways of living as way to challenge and change existing norms and values.