Functionalist theory of crime and deviance

Categories: CrimePhilosophy

Numerous people throughout the years have tried to explain why there is criminal offense in our society. Functionalists focus on the source of deviance in the nature of society instead of biological and mental explanations. Every functionalist concurs that social control systems e. g. the cops are essential to keep deviance in check and for that reason protecting social order. A primary contributor to the functionalist theory of crime is Durkheim. He thought that society is based upon a value agreement which all members of society share a common culture that is a set of shared values, standards, beliefs and goals.

Durkheim suggested that by society sharing the exact same culture produced social solidarity, therefore binding individuals together and telling them what to pursue and how to perform themselves. According to Durkheim criminal activity has 4 functions in society, the very first being that criminal activity and deviance is "unavoidable and typical". He recommended that criminal offense is unavoidable, normal and required for life.

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He stated crime is inescapable because not everyone in society is going to be similarly committed to the shared worths and morals as we are all exposed to various influences.

Durkheim gave the example of "even in a 'society of saints' with no criminal activity at all, such high standards of behaviour would make the tiniest deviant act e. g. burping stick out", this supports his tip of deviance is inescapable and it will constantly exist in society. The 2nd function that Durkheim laid out is that criminal activity helps society to develop.

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He stated "the other day's deviance must end up being today's normality", Durkheim thought the criminal offense assists society to examine the method it does things so we can gain from the deviance and errors.

Finally Durkheim detailed that crime is practical. He proposed that criminal offense could be practical and only becomes dysfunctional when its level is abnormally high or low. He stated extremely low rates result in stagnation, while high rates cause social disorganisation and mayhem. Durkheim believed that modification was healthy and in order for society to change yesterday's deviance need to end up being today's standard. Durkheim also mentioned that shared values and morals need to remain in moderate for their influence not to be strong on the population or deviance would take place 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.

Updated: Jul 07, 2022
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Functionalist theory of crime and deviance. (2016, Jul 23). Retrieved from

Functionalist theory of crime and deviance essay
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