Outline and Evaluate Functionalist Explanation of Crime.

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Functionalism is a consensus structuralist theory, which sees the source of crime and deviance located in the structure of society. Although crime and deviance might be stigmatised in society, some sociologist think it is important to have it occur and there are some benefits to it.

Durkheim (1982) argued that crime is an inevitable feature of social life, because individuals are composed to different influences and circumstances, and so not everyone can be equally committed to the shared values and moral beliefs of society. Despite crime and deviance’s threat to society, Durkheim saw it as beneficial as it could perform positive functions in society, such as, firstly; By strengthening collective values. Values can waste away unless people are reminded of the boundaries between right and wrong behaviour. Secondly, by enabling social change. Some deviance is necessary to allow new ideas to develop, and enable society to change and progress. Thirdly, by acting as a safety valve. Deviance can release stress in society. For example, violent protesting might be seen as an outlet for expression of discontent avoiding wider and more serious challenges to social order. Finally; by acting as a warning device that society is not working properly. For example, high rates of suicide, drug addiction and divorce show what social problems need to be solved before serious threats to social order develop.

Although Durkheim’s theory is valid, some criticisms are found. He proposed that crime promotes solidarity; however, this is not always the case, as sometimes crime can have the opposite effect. For example; state crime. Durkheim also believed that crime is functional for society as a whole; however, crime might not be functional to everyone. For example, the victim himself. Durkheim proposed that a certain amount of deviance in society is beneficial, but too much is damaging, however, he never indicated how much is enough. The main criticism is that Durkheim never explained how crime exists in the first place and why, which leaves a big unsolved gap in his theory.

Merton (1968) attempts to explain why deviance arises in the first place. He suggests that social order is based on a consensus around social goals and approved means of achieving them. Most people share goals, for example, financial success, having their own home and most conform to the approved means of achieving them, like working in paid legal employment. However, in an unequal society, Merton argues that not all individuals have the same opportunity of realising these goals by approved means. This means that they face a certain strain and anomie, as the dominant rules about how to achieve success don’t meet their needs. He argues that there are 5 different ways that members of society can respond to this situation of anomie, which he calls, conformity, innovation, ritualism, retreatism and rebellion. The first response; Conformity, this is where people strive for success through the accepted means of achieving this- education and work (Middle class.) The second response; these people value success but abandon the normal means of achieving it. Rather they use deviant means such as crime (ethnic minority groups, underclass and working class.) The third response; retreatism, those who may have tried to achieve success but failed and then abandoned the success goals of society and the means of achieving these goals (Drug users, alcoholics, squatters.) The fourth response; Rebellion, this is used to describe those who consciously reject the success of society and the means on achieving them. They may try to form groups who struggle to create a new society (Youths, ex-prisoners, anarchists.) Finally; Ritualism, this is used to describe those who have abandoned the success goals of society, but stick to the means of achieving these goals (Low grade office workers).

While Merton’s strength is that he clearly explains deviance as arising from the structure of society,...
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