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Using Material From Item A And Elsewhere, Assess The Usefulness Of Functionalist Approach In Explaning Crime

1306 words - 6 pages

Using material from Item A and elsewhere, assess the usefulness of functionalist approaches in explaining crime (21 marks)

Deviance is defined as the state of diverging from usual or accepted standards whereas crime is defined as an action or omission which constitutes an offence and is punishable by law. Usually, we would expect that functionalists would regard crime and deviance as wholly negative. However, functionalists such as Durkheim see the “beneficial effects of crime for society” whether there are “limited” or not. Additionally, functionalists see crime as inevitable and universal. Every known society has some level of crime and deviance. Within this essay, I will be exploring ...view middle of the document...

As functionalists are supporters of the nuclear family, they believe some crimes carry beneficial functions for example, prostitution acts as a safety valve for the release of men’s sexual frustration without threatening the monogamous nuclear family.

Functionalists are criticised in many ways. Item A states “small amount of crime is necessary”. However, functionalists offer no way of knowing how much the right amount is. Additionally, functionalists explain the existence of crime in terms of its supposed function – e.g. to strengthen solidarity but this doesn’t mean society actually creates crime in advance with the intention of strengthening solidarity. Thirdly, functionalism looks at what functions crime serves for society as a whole and ignores how it might affect different groups or individuals within society. Lastly, crime doesn’t always promote solidarity – it may have the opposite effect, leading to people becoming more isolated.

Item A states “focus on how far individuals accept the norms and values of society.” The next three sociologists explore the quotation above. Merton’s strain theory suggests that people engage in deviant behaviour when they are unable to achieve socially approved goals. Merton’s ideology combines two elements; structural and cultural factors. And, therefore, for Merton, deviance is the result of a strain between two things; the goals a culture encourages individuals to achieve and what the institutional structure of society allows them to achieve legitimately. Merton uses the well-known “American Dream” for this example, the legitimate means for this dream are; self-discipline, study, educational qualifications and hard work in a career. This, however, is based on a meritocratic society but in reality it is different. Disadvantaged groups are denied the opportunity to achieve legitimately. The strain theory is used to explain some of the patterns of deviance found in society. He argues that an individual’s position in the social structure affects the way they adapt to the strain to anomie. People join subcultures as a result of their position and mindset in society. Merton highlights five. Conformity, individuals accept the goal of money success and strive to achieve them legitimately. Innovation, individuals accept the goal of money success but use illegitimate means. Ritualism, individuals give up on trying to achieve the goals, but have internalised the legitimate means. Retreatism, reject both the goals and the legitimate means and become dropout. Lastly, rebellion, reject the existing society’s goals and means but they replace them with new ones in desire to bring about revolutionary change. However, the theory is criticised on several grounds, one being, it takes official statistics at face value. These over-represent working-class crime, it is also deterministic. Marxists argue, it ignores the power of the ruling class to make and enforce the laws in ways that criminalise the poor.

Cohen agrees with...

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