Topic One: The Functionalist Approach to Crime (Merton's Strain Theory…
Topic One: The Functionalist Approach to Crime
Recent strain theories
In America (and arguably the UK), economic goals are valued above all, and this undermines other institutions. For example, schools have become geared to preparing pupils for the labour market at the expense of inculcating values such as respect for others
Messner and Rosenfeld's institutional anomie theory
This recent argument (2001) focuses on the American Dream. They argue that its obsession with money and success and its 'winner takes all' mentality, exert 'pressures towards crime by encouraging an anomic cultural environment in which people are encouraged to adopt an 'anything goes' mentality in pursuit of wealth
Do Subcultures Explain Crime in Britain Today?
However, David Downes found limited evidence of subcultural values in his study of working class youth in East London
Instead, he found them dissociated from mainstream values of long-term employment, instead focused on leisure and hedonism
Howard Parker found evidence of 'focal concerns' in his study of working-class youth in Liverpool.
American Subcultural Theory
Matza: Delinquency and Drift
Matza rejects Cohen's view that delinquents are different, that they have a distincitve subculture in opposition to mainstream society
Matza argues that delinquent behaviour is often directed by subterranean values which are found throughout society (at all class levels, amongst ALL people)
Matza interviewed 100 delinquents in detention centres and found that a surprising large number of them disproved of most crimes, and were only partially committed to subcultural norms
Many expressed guilt and shame for their deliquent acts. This suggests at least some commitment to mainstream norms and values
He concluded that delinquents did not on the whole strongly reject society's values. Rather than forming a subculture that directly opposes dominant norms and values, the delinquent drift in and out of deviant activity.
Walter B. Miller 1962
Many middle class also adopt 'focal concerns'
Not all lower working class adopt 'focal concerns'
Status frustration does not exist, he believes we are born into WC subcultures, not something gained through status frustration
Miller saw the lower WC socialised into deviant subcultural values he called 'focal concerns'
Cloward and Ohlin 1960
The theory ignores women
Not everyone gets involved in criminal subcultures
It ignores 'white collar' crime
They identified 3 types of delinquent subculture
Retreatist (drug) Subculture
Conflict Violent Subculture
They see lower WC delinquents as sharing their own deviant subcultural values. Because of 'blocked opportunities' they cannot get on legitimately. So they develop an illegitimate career structure
Like Merton they explain working class crime in term of goals and means BUT they disagree with Merton that delinquents share the same values/goals as the rest of society
Albert Cohen 1955
Agrees with Merton that deviance is largely a lower class phenonmenon, however he also criticises him because Merton ignores the fact that crime is typically commited by groups, as well as the the fact that he only focuses on crime that has material gain
Status frustration: Cohen found that WC boys face material deprivation, and therefore feel a 'status frustration' - they can't succeed in a MC environment when they are WC, therefore they have to resort to crime to achieve
Merton as accused of not being able to explain non-material crime - so subcultural theory developed to explain such crime in terms of subcultures
Sub cultural theory assumes that those who deviate hold different values to mainstream society
It is centred around the idea of crime and deviance as a reaction by a group who reject the majority view and/or feel excluded
Why do people join street gangs? - information from government website
Money from crime
Power over other people
A sense of belonging
Merton's Strain Theory was revolutionary because it attempted to understand the reasons why people chose to commit crime
However, it only explains why people commit crimes for profit or monetary gain
Subcultural theory however explains other non-utilitarian crime (e.g. vandalism, graffiti etc - crimes without personal gain)
It also attempts to explain why those from certain sub cultural groups (i.e. the lower classes) commit crime and also how/why they form deviant subcultures
Functionalist key terms: Social Solidarity, Organic Analogy, Value Consensus, Anomie, Collective Conscience, Social Control
Merton's Strain Theory
5 Adaptations/responses to the strain
A total rejection of cultural goals and of the norms associated with achieving it.
These are replaced with alternatives
Those who seek to revolutionise and change society would fit into this category
This involves a rejection of the goal of success and of the normative means of getting there/achieving it (e.g. unemployment)
Often associated with people labelled 'drop outs' (homeless, drug addicts, alcoholics)
People who follow this deviant route abandon the goal of success - but stick rigidly to the normative rules
e.g. blue collar workers in 'dead end' jobs
People who accept the goal of success - but have little chance or means to access it
They 'innovate' and find alternative ways to get there (crime)
The pressure to follow this route is most felt at the bottom of the class ladder
According to Merton, most people conform despite the strain to anomie.
Even if they don't make it, they continue with the normative means of getting there
The strain to anomie is felt most strongly by those at the bottom of the class structure - they are less likely to get the skills and qualifications needed to get to the top - so may resort to other means
LINK to cultural hegemony/status frustration
Despite what the American Dream says, not everybody has an equal chance of success - equality is prevented by the social structure
Some people are tempted to turn to criminal activity, or any means necessary, to get to the top
It was in 1893 that Durkheim first introduced the concept of anomie to describe the erosion of norms
Anomie means 'normlessness' - a state where norms no longer apply (anything goes)
Merton refers to this pressure to deviate as 'strain to anomie'
Deviance occurs when they reject the goal of success (e.g. being wealthy) and/or the legitimate means of meeting that goal
So much emphasis is placed on material success that many people experience pressure to deviate away from these norms and values
Culture and norms
There are norms which define legitimate means for achieving success
Measured in terms of money and material possessions
American culture attaches great importance to success
In American society, there seems to be great importance attached to achieving the material goals, but no one seems to care where the money came from.
When the rules are ignored to a greater extent, a situation of anomie or normlessness, occurs where deviance is encouraged. This is sometimes grumbled about as a breakdown in law and order and moral values
In Western societies there are cultural goals that we're all socialised to want, like big cars, big houses, splendid holidays etc
and there are institutionalised means of achieving those goals, chiefly education and career
He used the lifestyle concept of the American Dream which places great emphasis on material success
Because members of society are in different positions of the social structure, not everyone has the same relationship with the value consensus: some heartily embrace it (because they can), while others reject it (because they can't meet the demands of the value consensus)
Merton was a functionalist who argued that there are five responses to the value consensus - we can either love it, abuse it, neglect it, reject it or radically change it
Durkheim: The Positive Functions of Crime
Adaptation and change
Durkheim argues that all change starts with an act of deviance
There must be some scope for them to challenge and change existing norms and values, and in the first instance this will inevitably appear as deviance. However, in the long run their values may give rise to a new culture and morality. If those with new ideas are suppressed, society will stagnate and be unable to make necessary adaptive changes.
Crime produces a reaction from society, uniting its members in condemnation of the wrongdoer and reinforcing their commitment to the shared norms and values
The purpose of punishment is to reaffirm society's shared rules and reinforce social solidarity
Durkheim called this situation
. Where a collapse of the collective conscience has occurred and anomie exists, crime rates rocket.
Only be re-imposing collective values can the situation be brought back under control
In this situation, people may be freed from the social control imposed by the collective conscience and may start to look after their own selfish interests rather than adhering to social values
However, in periods of great social change or stress, the collective conscience may be weakened
According to Durkheim, society is based on people sharing common values (the collective conscience), which form the basis for actions.
Crime in inevitable because not everyone in society is going to be equally committed to the collective (shared) sentiments (values and morals). This is because we are all exposed to different influences and circumstances
Crime is an inevitable, normal and necessary (functional) aspect of social life. "CRIME IS AN INTEGRAL PART OF AL HEALTHY SOCIETIES"
Society of Saints'
Even in a 'society of saints', with no crime at all, such high standards of behaviour would make even the smallest deviant act (like burping) stand out like a sore thumb - so deviance is inevitable and it was always be present in society
But that's not a bad thing - Durkheim argued that deviance helped society to evolve, to review the way it does things and to learn from deviance and mistakes "YESTERDAY'S DEVIANCE MUST BECOME TODAY'S NORMALITY"
Deviance leads the way to progress. If the collective sentiments are too strong, they will crush revolutionary sports such as Mandela and Che Guevara.