Assess the View That Crime Is Functional

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Assess the view that crime is functional, inevitable and normal. (33 marks)

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. 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...
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