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Functionalist Explanations Of Crime And Deviance

2608 words - 11 pages

Functionalist Explanations of Crime and Deviance

Functionalist’s believe that shared norms and values are the basis of social order and social solidarity. They see crime and deviance as dysfunctional to society. However, functionalist’s do see some crime as being ‘normal’.

Merton took functionalist views further by saying that crime and deviance were a strain between the socially accepted goals of society and the socially approved means of achieving them - this strain then results in deviance. The American Dream states that anyone can make it to the top. However, emphasis is placed on material success so people feel pressure to deviate from accepted norms and values. People are ...view middle of the document...

And also Merton fails to look at crimes of the powerful and over exaggerate working class crimes.

Drawing on Merton’s theory, Nightingale explains how goods are wanted but not through the right way of acquiring them. He studied young black youth in Philadelphia and found that subcultures were emerging as a desire to fit in to mainstream society. Nightingale stated that black children consume US culture through TV with an emphasis on consumerism and violence. These children are excluded economically, racially and politically from mainstream culture and therefore respond to this my identifying themselves with high status names and logos and turning to illegal means to acquire these goods.

Agreeing with Merton that society needs crime to function properly is Durkheim. Durkheim says that crime is necessary for society. He argues that there is a basis of society with shared values that guide our actions called ‘The Collective Conscience’. It has boundaries between actions that are and aren’t acceptable but these boundaries are not clear and they change over time. Durkheim says that whilst too much crime is a threat to society, too little crime and deviance is unhealthy. He sees a certain amount of crime as functional because; It reaffirms boundaries by things such as the media outlining crimes. It also changes values and may cause a change in the law e.g. Cannabis use. And also Social Cohesion which brings people together after a terrible crime has been committed, reminding everybody of the shared norms and values and the limits of toleration.

Alternatively to the functionalist view, the subcultural theory explains crime and deviance as a collective response. It argues that there are subcultures that have different norms and values to the rest of society. They do not live in opposition to mainstream society however they have changed different values to justify criminal behaviour.

Cohen was the first sociologist to develop a subcultural theory of working class crime and deviance. He agreed with Merton that mainstream values of society create problems with success for young people from the working class. He believed that the working class tried to fit in with the middle class by emulating their values and aspirations yet they lacked the means to attain success. They are given little respect as they do badly at school and do not get the qualifications and skills needed to succeed therefore leading to ‘status frustration’ with their low status. They then seek a solution by creating or joining a subculture. Anti-social behaviour is condemned by society but valued by the subculture, relieving the status frustration felt as they gain respect for succeeding in crime and deviance.

Cohen’s theory explained things that Merton’s theory could not, it also uses the collective response that crime and deviance is not individual and is mostly group work. However, there are other explanations to crime and Cohen fails to discuss female crime.


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