Crime refers to any act which goes against the written rules, laws, of society. It results in a formal negative sanction. For example, speeding will result in a punishment such as a fine. However, deviance refers to an act which goes against the unwritten rules, norms and values, of society. It results in an informal negative sanction. For example, someone with their whole body covered in tattoos may receive odd looks because of their image. Functionalists view society as a collective consensus, they argue that within a culture we all share the same norms and values.
They see crime as inevitable, as a healthy part of society that will occur regardless.
Durkheim was a famous French sociologist. He saw society as a collective consensus, and humans as ‘homo duplex’, arguing that people have both a social side and an individual side. The individual side emerges when social bonds are weak, resulting in the person committing an act of deviance or crime.
Durkheim also came up with the term anomie, a sense of normlessness within society. This is when there is a disagreement on the norms and values. He also argued that crime is inevitable, and it would happen within society regardless. Durkheim also argued that crime was on one hand necessary and functional for society, but then went on to say that is was also harmful and dysfunctional. He argued that a certain amount of crime is good for society, and that it can bring a community together in order for them to agree on what is right and wrong, and also initiate change.
For example, protesting will lead to attention upon that certain topic, and potentially change. Crime can also provide people with work, and purpose.
However, there are many criticisms of Durkheim. Chambliss argues that the laws aren’t part of a collective consensus, they are decided on by the capitalist elite who rule society. Chambliss argues that laws are anything that threatens the capitalist elite’s interests. Another critique of Durkheim is Merton, who argues that people commit crime due to the strain they feel. Durkheim also fails to distinguish the different types of crime, he talks about them in very vague terms.
Merton came up with The Strain Theory. He argued that many people within society, feel under strain and pressure to achieve ‘The American Dream’ of wealth, success and also competition. Merton argues that this is due to the fact that they have been socialised to believe this is the right way of life. When they are unable to achieve this, it can result in them taking several different routes to achieve this, such as conformity, rebellion, retreatism, ritualism and innovation. Merton argues that this theory is the cause of crime and deviance, and is a result of the expectations from society.
Marxists would agree with Merton, they argue that society is capitalistic and the capitalist elite create the norms, values and laws as anything that threatens their interests. They argue that people commit crime in order to achieve the things they want, as they are victims of the capitalist society. Merton’s theory has been criticised due to the fact that it talks very vaguely of what types of crime are being committed, it ignores crimes which aren’t related to the economy. Albert Cohen also developed a similar concept in his work ‘Delinquent Boys’. He found that many young, working class males are frustrated with themselves as they’re labelled failures, this was identified as status frustration. The individual then goes on to commit crime as a result of their status.
Hirschi developed the Social Bonds Theory. He argued that social control is achieved through the development of close social bonds, including: achievement, commitment and involvement. These provide people with a purpose, and keeps them away from committing criminal and deviant acts due to the commitment in which they have. For example, someone who plays an active part in a close-knit community would stray away from committing crime due to their commitment and involvement to the community. Hirschi argued that the stronger the social bonds are, the less likely an individual is to commit crime.
There are many criticisms of Hirschi’s theory. Marxists argue that crime is the result of the capitalist society, and not the strength of the social bonds. They also argue that Hirschi’s argument is invalid due to the fact that corporate crime exists. People of the middle/upper class commit crimes within a business and organisation, even though they have strong social bonds of achievement, commitment and involvement.
In conclusion, there are many strengths but also criticisms of the functionalist theory. It explains the social structures and processes that lead to crime and deviance, therefore giving us a brief idea on why these occur. However, there are many criticisms. They view society as a collective consensus, therefore ignoring the fact that not everyone may agree on the norms and values of society. Postmodernists would argue that society is so diverse, that no such thing as a collective consensus could exist. They also ignore individual motives, and focus on society as a whole, ignoring any subcultures that exist.
Marxists would argue that functionalists ignore the concept of power when discussing ideas surrounding crime and deviance, Marxists would argue that power has a large impact on the reasons behind why people commit criminal and deviant acts. Interactionists suggest that crime depends on an individual’s relationship to crime, and they argue whether it is functional for society or not. Marxists and Feminists also argue that they focus to much on the positive functions crime has for society, such as providing people with work and purpose, and bringing the community together. They argue that functionalists ignore the negative impacts crime can have on people, how is crime beneficial for the victim? On the whole, the functionalist system has more criticisms than strengths, yet provides us with a detailed argument surrounding the reasons why criminal and deviant acts are committed within our society.