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Functionalist Theory

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Topics: Sociology
Durkheim’s functionalist theory
Outline the theory
Functionalism sees society as based on value consensus. That is, it sees members of society as sharing a common culture. A culture is a set of shared norms, values, beliefs and goals. Sharing the same culture produces social solidarity-it binds individuals together, telling them what to strive for and how to conduct themselves.
Functionalists argue that in order to achieve this solidarity, society has two key mechanisms:
Socialisation instils the shared culture into its members. This helps to ensure that individuals internalise the same norms and values, and that they feel it right to act in the way that society requires.
Social control mechanisms include rewards for conformity, and punishments for deviance. These help to ensure that individuals behave in the way society expects.
The inevitability of crime
From the above account, we might expect that functionalists would regard crime and deviance as wholly negative-a threat to society order and even the very existence of society. For example, if each of us chose to do our own thing-whether it be refusing to work, helping ourselves to others possessions, or deciding to commit suicide-it is hard to imagine how society could continue to exist.
However, while functionalists see too much crime as destabilising society, they also see crime as inevitable and universal. Every known society is a contradiction in terms. For Durkheim crime is normal... an integral part of all healthy societies.
For Durkheim, not only is crime inevitable; it also fulfils two important positive functions: boundary maintenance and adaptation.
Boundary maintenance
Crime produces a reaction from society, uniting its members in condemnation of the wrongdoer and reinforcing their commitment to the shared norms and values.
For Durkheim, this explains the functions of punishment. This is not to make the wrongdoer suffer or mend his ways, nor is it to remove crime from society. In Durkheim’s view, the purpose of punishment is to reaffirm society’s shared rules and reinforce solidarity.

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