Assess the View That Crime Is Functional
Within the sociological perspectives of crime and deviance, there is one particular approach which argues that crime is functional, inevitable and normal. This sociological perspective, Functionalism, consists of Emile Durkheim’s work on crime and deviance. His main argument was that ‘crime is normal’ and that it is ‘an integral part of all healthy societies’. This perspective views crime and deviance as an inevitable feature of all societies which is universal. However, Durkheim did argue that too much crime can lead to the destabilisation of society.
Durkheim identified three positive aspects of crime which make it a functional component of society. He done this through magnifying the positive impacts it can have on social cohesion which refers to the invisible bonds which bring people together within a society. There were three main positive aspects which he accentuated as they made crime and deviance functional. These were ‘reaffirming the boundaries’, ‘changing values’ and ‘social cohesion. ’ The first, reaffirming the boundaries, refers to situations where crime has already occurred.
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When the criminal is taken to court, the public outcry which follows verifies the boundaries. This can be seen particularly in countries such as Saudi Arabia, where public hangings and executions take place. The second positive aspect of crime which makes it functional for society is changing values. Durkheim stated that every so often, when an individual commits a crime, there is a degree of sympathy from the public. This hints at a change in values which can eventually lead to a change in law. This was seen in the change in attitudes towards cannabis use.
This, Durkheim argued, is functional as crime allows values to be changed as time passes in order to adopt the current perceptions and attitudes the public holds. The third and final positive aspect which he identified was social cohesion. This refers to when a particularly horrific or violent crime is committed. The public unite in a shared outcry against the criminals’ actions and this strengthens the familiarity within the group. Bonds are strengthened and the sense of belonging to the group is also reinforced. An example of this is the July 2005 London Underground bombings which strengthened ties amongst all communities.
On the other hand, Durkheim did argue that too much crime can also be dysfunctional for society if there is too much occurring at one time within one society. He argued that too much crime can lead to social disorganisation whereas too little crime can lead to stagnation. Durkheim used the term, anomie, to outline the times when crime can be dysfunctional for society. He stated that each and every society is based on collective conscience ( a shared set of beliefs and values ). This can be weakened in times of stress and social change.
In situations, such as this, individuals are freed from the social control which is imposed by the collective conscience. This results in anomie where there is a breakdown of social expectations and behaviour. Individuals within the society then begin to look after their own selfish interests and ignore the social values which they previously believed in due to the collective conscience. In situations such as these, crime rates increase drastically. This can be seen in the current news where Egypt is undergoing a major social change bought about by protests.
Since the protests began there has been an increase in criminal activity such as vandalism, looting, drive-by shootings and sexual assault. In opposition, to the argument that crime is functional, inevitable and normal, Robert Merton’s strain theory is contradictory to his statement. He used the term ‘strain’ to describe a lack of balance and adjustment in society. When attributing this term to his theory, he referred to a strain between the socially accepted goals of society and the socially approved ways of obtaining these goals.
Merton argued that the resulting strain from the imbalance leads to criminal and deviant acts being committed. Merton stated that each and every society sets goals and also establishes socially-approved means of obtaining these goals. When individuals are not able to meet these standards through the means which have been inaugural rated, they turn to other options which can involve crime and deviance. This shows that, according to Merton, crime can fulfil a dysfunctional role within society. The options which he identified were conformity, innovation, rebellion, ritualism and re-treatism.
These responses to the socially approved goals and means can sometimes lead to criminal activity and subsequently, a dysfunctional society. Firstly, conformity is when an individual adheres to both the goals and the means despite the limited chances of success. This can result in a functional society as all of the socially approved concepts are accepted and adopted within the person’s life, thus, excluding crime. Secondly, innovation refers to when goals are accepted but individuals find different ways to achieve them. These methods are often criminal.
For instance, if an individual wants the socially approved goal of owning those aspects which make him/her of a higher reputation, they can turn to organised theft and in some cases, white collar crime. Ritualism refers to when an individual uses the means but loses sight of the goals whereas retreatism refers to when the individuals rejects both the goals and the means. Individuals who are dependent on alcohol, drugs and substance abuse reside within this response. Rebellion refers to the individuals who reject the socially approved goals and means, and, instead adopt their own.
Religious fundamentalists and political activists fall within this category. These individuals often use criminal and deviant methods in order to get their personal message across. As a result, Merton’s strain theory shows that when an individual responds to strains within a society, this can prove either functional or dysfunctional to the society. For instance, groups who adopted the response of conformity are more likely to be part of a functional society, whereas groups who adopt the response of rebellion are more likely to be part of a dysfunctional society.
Another aspect of Merton’s theory is his arguments that crime can be linked to social stratification. Individuals who are on the lower levels of the ‘social ladder’ are more likely to commit crime due to their situation which would include restricted goals. For these individuals, crime and deviance is inevitable as they do not have another option due to their restricted options. However, Valier (2001) has criticised Merton for concentrating on ‘common’ values as individuals often have a variety of goals.
Consequently, those individuals who are lower on the ‘social ladder’ may have restricted goals which are socially approved but may have their own personal goals which they strive to fulfil through similar means. There is, on the other hand, a strength of the strain theory as it provides an explanation for the increase in Crime during Thatcher Britain due to the excessive individualism which causes a strain between the goals and means. Functionalism, on the whole, also has a weakness which highlight possible flaws within, Durkheim’s approach. For instance, exactly how much crime is ‘some’? Individual differences concerning opinions, etc.
Can result in different interpretations of what Durkheim means when he says ‘some crime is functional’. Moreover, Durkheim argues that crime is normal and inevitable for society. If Durkheim is saying that crimes such as murder and rape are normal as they provide the positive function of social cohesion, then what does that say about our societies? Conversely, there is an additional approach which can be used in opposition to the suggestion that crime is function, inevitable and normal. Marxism argues that although crime is inevitable within Capitalist societies, it does not fulfil a functional role within any society.
Capitalism is criminogenic and damaging to the proletariat as criminal and deviant acts are the only things which ensure their survival. Within capitalist societies, the proletariat are exploited by the ruling class; this leads to the proletariat committing utilitarian crimes such as theft. Laws within capitalist societies also favour the ruling class as they reflect their interests. This was shown in Chambliss’ research concerning British vagrancy laws. He found that laws enforced in 1349 forced every able person to work at a low fixed wage.
However, in 1530, the law was changed when the increasingly powerful merchant class needed safety from highway robbers who were individuals who had no employment. The new laws gave them the power to arrest and force individuals into any work available and in turn, the merchant class interests were looked after. Marxist sociologists argue that Proletariat and ruling class crime both commit crime, but the latter commits more sophisticated crimes which are harder to detect. Proletariat individuals commit utilitarian crimes whereas ruling class individuals commit crimes such as money embezzlement, white collar and corporate crimes.
All of these crimes increase the costs for living safely for the public, so how can this be functional for society? The main aspect of the Marxist argument is that capitalism causes crime which is more concentrated within proletariat lives. However, these individuals have no other way of coping with the hardship in their lives and, as a result, turn to criminal and deviant acts. They argue that the only solution is communism as crime rates would decrease immensely. Nevertheless, there are criticisms of this approach. Jones (2001) pointed out that capitalism does not always lead to crime.
Switzerland is a capitalist society but the county’s crime rates remain low. This proves to be a major flaw in the theory as this is one of the Marxists’ main assumptions. Ultimately, there are many sociological perspectives which can be used in favour of and in opposition of the suggestion. Each of these approaches to crime and deviance have negative and positive criticisms which can be both minor and major. In order to conclude all approaches, it can be argued that the most favourable way is to take aspects of each as there is research to support many aspects of each.