Crime and Deviance Revision Pack

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Different theories of crime, deviance, social order and social control

1. Functionalist theories of crime and deviance

A. Emile Durkheim

1. Crime & deviance is functional

Durkheim believed that a certain amount of crime and deviance could be seen as positive for society.

Necessary to generate social change - innovation only comes about if old ideas are challenged. Helps to clarify the boundaries of acceptable behaviour following social reactions to deviance. Creates social integration as it bonds society together against criminals.

2. Crime & deviance is dysfunctional

Durkheim believed that crime and deviance also acts as a threat to society. This is because the norms and values that ‘unite’ society are being challenged, thus threatening consensus, social order and stability.

3. Cause of crime & deviance

Durkheim believed that crime & deviance occurred as a result of anomie (normlessness). Durkheim believed that this could occur during periods of rapid social change (e.g. revolutions) when people become unsure of what societies norms and values are.

4. Social order & social control

Durkheim believed that in modern societies there was agreement or consensus over society’s norms and values, which resulted in social order and stable societies. Durkheim believed this occurred because society’s institutions successfully implemented social control. For Durkheim social control is positive (unlike interactionist and Marxist views on social control) as it creates social cohesion. Durkheim believes social control is achieved by various agencies of social control socialising individuals into socially agreed norms and values (regulation) and by integrating individuals into social groups. For example, schools bond individuals together into school communities and classes. They instil core norms & values through citizenship programmes. Religion binds people together during times of happiness e.g. weddings and sadness e.g. funerals. Religion regulates behaviour by setting down certain moral standards.

eaHeaParsons argued that sickness can be seen as deviant and has the potential for de-stabilising society. Parsons therefore sees the medical profession as performing an important social control function by restricting access to the ‘sick role’. In this way illegitimate illness (deviant illness) is minimised and social order and stability is maintained.

Strength

• Durkheim has served to generate a great deal of subsequent research and influence other sociological theories on crime and deviance. For example, control theories of crime and deviance. This suggests that Durkheim’s ideas have made a major contribution to the study of crime and deviance.

Weaknesses

• It is not clear at what point the “right” amount of crime (necessary and beneficial) becomes “too much” (creating disorder and instability). • The very idea that crime can be beneficial is questionable; it is hardly likely to seem that way to the victim! • Perhaps this reflects a more general problem in the functionalist approach, the tendency to assume that if something exists it must serve some purpose (have a function). • This approach also does not explain why some people commit crimes and others do not, or why they commit particular offences. • Finally, functionalism assumes that norms and laws reflect the wishes of the population; it does not consider the possibility that a powerful group is imposing its values on the rest of society.  

B. Robert Merton and strain theory

Merton maintained that American/British society socialises individuals to:

• meet certain shared goals - the ‘American Dream’ • to follow approved means or ways to achieve the goals e.g. hard work and effort.

Merton argued that capitalist societies suffer from anomie - a strain/conflict between the goals set by society and the legitimate (law abiding) means of achieving them. Merton claimed...
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