The Influence of Durkheim on Modern Criminological Investigation

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Topics: Sociology
The ‘father of academic sociology’ (Hopkins Burke, 2006), Emile Durkheim believed that crime was an important necessity in every society as it played important functional roles in the maintenance of social cohesion, the continuity of social progress and the establishment and reinforcement of societal norms. He stated that criminality was a normal phenomenon, its influence prevalent even on the most saintly of societies. Durkheim’s theories regarding the normality and inevitability of crime, along with his influential concepts of anomie, the division of labour and mechanical and organic solidarity, had a lasting effect on the field of criminological study, particularly in subsequent research conducted by fellow populist theorists of the Chicago School.

Emile Durkheim was on of the first sociologists to reject both biological and psychological populist theories of crime and criminal behaviour in an attempt to analyse criminality as a social phenomenon (Hopkins Burke, 2006). Central to his sociological perspective of crime was the concept of anomie which he defined as “the breakdown of social norms and values” leading to “social disorganisation” of many forms, including an overabundance of criminal activity. He used anomie in his most famous work, The Division of Labour (Dukheim, 1933), in which he broke down societies into two distinct categories depending on the complexity and sophistication of the division of labour present. Traditional, pre-modern societies contained what he proclaimed to be mechanical solidarity. This type of society was characterised be a simple division of labour and conformity amongst societal members. The public shared identical understanding of societal norms and values, whilst crimes and to a lesser extent individuality were dealt with by harsh, retributive punishment. As years passed, rapid social changes such as urbanisation and significant technological advances lead to a more complex system of division of labour. This along with the



References: Burgess, E ([1925] 1967) ‘The Growth of the City’ in R Park, E Burgess & R McKanzie (eds.), The City, University of Chicago Press, Chicago. Durkheim, E (1933) The Division of Labour in Society, Free Press, New York. Durkheim, E (1982) The Rules of Sociological Methods, Free Press New York. Einstadter, W & Henry, S (1995) Criminological Theory: An Analysis of Its Underlying Assumptions, Harcourt Brace Collage Publishers, Fort Worth. Hopkins Burke, R. (2006) An Introduction to Criminological Theory (Second Edition), Willan, Devon. Roshier, B (1977) ‘The Function of Crime Myth’, Sociological Review 25: 302-23. Tierney, J. (2006) Social Disorganisation and Anomie in Criminology: Theory and Context (second edition), Pearson, Harlow.

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