Functionalist's theory on crime (1. Durkheim (Durkheim argues that as…
Functionalist's theory on crime
For Functionalists deviance is when you deviate from the value consensus of society. Laws in society are a reflection of the majority of the population and the value consensus.
They argue that people are naturally selfish and greedy but are kept under control by social control.
Socialisation teaches people the norms and values of society and how to behave. If socialisation breaks down or is inadequate people may not follow ‘collective sentiments (shared beliefs/values) and may instead follow their selfish desires.
Durkheim argues that as societies industrialised (more individualistic - move away from family) the collective sentiments may weaken and people could find themselves in anomie (sense of normlessness). Durkheim argues not everyone is equally committed to collective sentiments and not everyone is as reluctant to break the law. This is because people have experienced different socialisation and influences.
Functionalists do not address criminal statistics or reasons for why people commit crime or possible solutions. However, functionalists theory is one of the first theories to explain crime in terms of society influences and culture rather than in the theories of the New Right.
Functionalists do not explain why some individuals commit crime and others do not.
Functionalists believe that everything has a function in society.
Argues crime only becomes dysfunctional where there is too much or too little of it.
3. Merton's Strain Theory
All societies are socialised into values and goals - e.g. American Dream - Economic wealth & Material wealth - was said that everyone had equal chances of obtaining this. However, Merton points out that not everyone had the same opportunities - some are disadvantaged by class, gender or ethnicity.
American Functionalist Merton argues that society itself generates crime and deviance. Merton argues that deviance occurs when societies members are unable to meet it’s goals - they commit crime to get the material wealth that they think they deserve. e.g. London Riots.
When members of society can’t reach their goals through legitimate means (hard work, education qualifications) that are in a position of strain - puts strain on them to reach the accepted goals in a deviant way through alternative means. - may lead them to deviance.
Merton argues that in a balanced society an equal emphasis is placed on the goals of society and the legitimate means of reaching them. However, America became unbalanced - more emphasis on goal than means - getting rich at any cost becomes the goal - a situation of anomie (normlessness) results.
Merton argues people in different places in the social structure will respond differently to the situation or anomie.
Merton identified 5 responses:
Conformist - Follows goals and means but unlikely to succeed.
Innovator - follows the goals but ignore the legitimate means.
Ritualist - Uses the set means but has lost sight of the goals.
Retreatist - Rejects both the goals and the means so retreat into their own world.
Rebel - Reject and means but create your own alternative goals e.g. hippies.
Doesn't explain why conformists take part in riots
Doesn't explain all crimes e.g. murder
Doesn't explain group responses
Merton didn't do any research and they have no evidence.
However, Merton does not explain why people give up or why people act differently.
Karl Nightingale Study - Ethnographic Study of black youths in inner city Philadelphia
He believes that poverty only goes so far in explaining rising number of violence - other factors such as trying to achieve for designer goods to achieve society’s materialistic goal. This study supports Merton's strain view that crime is a result of a mismatch between goals and means. Although this offers some support for anomie, Nightingale found that boys joined gangs and committed crime, whereas Merton sees crime as an individual response not a collective one.
2. Functions of crime and deviance
Create jobs e.g. police officers, judges, prison officers.
- Safety Valve
Albert Cohen argues that deviance can be a ‘safety valve’ - a release from the strain of society. E.g. prostitution without affecting family stability. However, if in a relationship the partner found out it would break the family down. Too much crime indicates social cohesion has broken down and will result to their selfish natures - no standards of behaviour. A failure in socialisation puts too much strain on the rest of society e.g. the legal prison systems. Too much crime could negatively affect society - break down family structure (divorce, single parents) then young people are not socialised properly. Functionalists therefore believe that something should be done to correct failing institutions e.g. tighten up on divorce laws.
Matza "Delinquency and Drift"
Matza argues that distinct subcultures do not exist and links motivation of deviants to broader values of society. He distinguishes
are merely an exaggeration of values held up by money regarding sex, thrills and enjoyment and the actions of the deviants are justified through
techniques of neutralisation
. Meaning, deviant’s acts are justified by excuses such as:
Denial of responsibility
Denial of victim
Denial of injury
Condemnation of condemners
Appeal to higher loyalties
- Bonds of family life etc may be weakened and young people will drift in and out of delinquency accordingly.
- Crime brings people together and strengthens social control - e.g. twin towers united communities
Publicly punishing offenders shows everyone what will happen if they break the law - need to be reminded of the consensus and societies boundaries.
Durkheim argues the function of punishment is to maintain collective sentiments. According to Durkheim a healthy society needs both crime and punishment.
However, people still commit crime regardless.
Is there really a consensus? Marxists argue that the law is not a result of a consensus of values. the upper class have the power to get laws passed.
However, different people receive different punishments.
However people still commit the same crimes.
Deviance leads to change
Durkheim argues that all social change starts with some form of deviance. If collective sentiments are too strong there will be little deviance but also little change. After time norms and values may change and laws may not reflect the people. e.g. suffragettes
Durkheim argues that society itself generates deviance for it’s own good.
Not functional for the victims or others involved.
Feminists criticise functionalism as they see the whole criminal justice system as patriarchal and not for the benefit of everyone e.g. rape.
4. Hirschi - Control Theory
- The way society exerts pressure on its members to make them conform to its norms and values.
There are 2 types of social control:
- the pressure and influences of institutions such as the family, community, media etc. to make people conform to norms and values.
- Actions of the police etc. make people conform by punishing people for criminal activities.
Both - Education - being expelled.
Hirschi feels that questioning why people commit crime is less relevant than asking why people do not commit crime. Hirschi argues people do not commit crime when they have strong attachments to society.
He states that individuals are linked to society by four bonds.
Attachments - How much they care about other opinions.
Commitment - commitment to education or work
Involvement - hobbies, lifestyle
Belief - in right and wrong
When these bonds are loosened or absent people are freed from their social control and are more likely to commit crime.
He believes that human beings are neither naturally naughty, wicked or prone to conformity, this is different to normal functionalism. He views us a rational human beings that will only turn to crime when the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.
Marxist Stephan Box suggests that the following four factors affect an individuals bonds with society.
Secrecy - ability to conceal/hide deviance - it’s not that their action is wrong, it’s that they can’t hide it from their family.
Skills - Knowledge to commit deviance - smart enough to get away with it
Supply - Have the equipment to perform the deviant act i.e drugs.
Social support - approval of peers for their deviancy
Symbolic support - support from wider society for activity.
As a Marxist, Stephan Box sees social control as a tool of the upper class to stop people rebelling against capitalism - so he sees the removal of social control as a good thing. Marxists would argue that collective consciousness is not an agreed set of norms and values but rather the ideas of the ruling class. Box also argues that corporations may turn to illegal means of increasing their profit if legal ways are ineffective
5. Charles Murray - American new right realism.
Murray stresses the importance of the family in exerting social control.
He suggests lone-parent families do not provide adequate discipline and a man role model.
He calls for a return to basic family values.
6. James Wilson
Wilson argues that the community should use social control on it’s members and impose sanctions on its deviants e.g. Neighbourhood watch.
Wilson calls for the police to stamp down on the trivial offences to show youth that crime will not be tolerated. This is known as zero tolerance.
Internationalists would question the functionalist assumption that the law and police act equally on everyone's behalf because of labelling and stereotyping.