Distinguish Between Crime as a Social and a Sociological Problem, to What Extent Should Sociologists Attempt to Combat “the Social Problem of Crime”

Topics: Sociology, Émile Durkheim, Anomie Pages: 6 (1954 words) Published: December 12, 2012
In this essay we shall look at what crime is, what social problems are, and what sociological problems are , how they overlap and we will also look into what sociologists do and look into Robert Merton’s strain theory, and also other sociologists views like William Chambliss’s ‘roughnecks and saints’. A crime is the breaking of certain rules laid out by a society i.e. the Government. Crime is said to be ‘activities that break the law and are subject to official punishment (Holborn and Haralambos, 2000, pg. 330)

All social norms are accompanied by sanctions that promote conformity and protect against non-conformity. A sanction is any reaction from others to the behaviour of an individual or group that is meant to ensure compliance to a given norm. Sanctions may be positive (the offering of reward for conformity) or negative (punishment for behaviour that does not conform. (Haralambos and Holborn 2000 pg. 205).

Deviance is not all that different to crime. In fact sometimes crime and deviance are the same thing, but not in every case. Deviance may be defined as non-conformity to a given set of norms that are accepted by a significant number of people in a community or society (Giddens, 2001 pg. 203). We can split deviance into two groups’ folkways and mores. Folkways are minor norms while mores are more serious norms. There are different sanctions for a violation of them. An example of the violation of folkways would be burping in a library, and a violation of mores would be killing someone for a biscuit. Mores can also be laws. Laws are formal sanctions. Durkheim who was probably one of the founding fathers of sociology saw crime and deviance as social facts. (Giddens 2001 pg. 207). They are essential and necessary to a society’s progression. The problem with this is that traditional norms become undermined and if you don’t replace them, Anomie exists. Durkheim believed Anomie exists when there are no clear standards to guide behaviour, social values and norms become weakened. If they are not replaced with new ones, standards of behaviour become unclear; this may lead to criminal behaviour. (Giddens 2001 pg. 207). Robert K Merton another highly influential sociologist built on Durkheim’s ideas of anomie,

He modified the concept of anomie to the strain put on individual’s behaviour when accepted norms conflict with social reality. In American society- and to some degree in other industrial societies- generally held values emphasize material success, and the means of achieving success are supposed to be self-discipline and hard work

(Giddens 2001, pg. 208).

Robert K Merton built onto Durkheim’s idea of anomie; it was called ‘the strain theory’. ‘The strain theory’ also pointed out that there are five different adaptive responses to social strain, there are conformists, innovators (crime), ritualists, retreatists, and rebels. Conformity is a person’s willingness to adhere or stick to a certain set of values or norms most of the population falls into this group; Innovators on the other hand can be seen a bit different. A person would accept the values or goals from a society but would not accept the traditional ways of receiving the goals, (criminals), ritualists are people that would abandon (or lose sight of) the traditional larger goals, but would be quite happy with the means of trying to attain those goals, retreatists are people who fail to attain the goals and the means of a society, retreatists include some alcoholics, drug users, homeless. The deviance of retreatists lies in unconventional living, Rebels are similar to retreatists. Rebels as the word describes, a complete rejection of values and means of a society, rebels go one step further though, and they come up with radical alternatives to the existing social order, for example politicians (John J Macionis and Ken Plummer, 2005 pg. 606).According to Merton, deviance is a by-product of economic inequalities and the lack of equal opportunities....
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