Functionalist Theories of Crime and Deviance Flashcards Preview

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Durkheim's functionalist theory of crime

Functionalists see society as a stable system based on a value consensus-shared norms, values, beliefs and goals. This produces social solidarity, bringing individuals together into a harmonious unit.


Which two key mechanisms achieve social solidarity according to Durkheim?

-SOCIALISATION instils the shared culture into its members to ensure that they internalise the same norms and values, and that they feel it right to act in the ways that society requires
- SOCIAL CONTROL mechanisms include rewards (positive sanctions) for conformity and punishments (negative sanctions) for deviance


Crime is inevitable and universal

While crime disrupts social stability, functionalists see it as inevitable and universal. Durkheim sees crime as a normal part of all healthy societies
1) In every society, some individuals are inadequately socialised and prone to deviate
2) In modern societies, there is a highly specialised division of labour and a diversity of subcultures. Individuals and groups become increasingly different from one another, and the shared rules of behaviour become less clear. Durkheim calls this anomie (normlessness)


What are the two functions of crime for Durkheim?

1. Boundary maintenance
2. Adaptation and change


Boundary Maintenance

-Crime produces a reaction from society, uniting its members against the wrongdoer and reinforcing their commitment to the value consensus. This is the function of punishment: to reaffirm shared values and reinforce solidarity. E.g. courtroom rituals publicly stigmatise offenders, reminding everyone of the boundary between right and wrong


Adaption and Change- all change starts with deviance

For change to occur, individuals with new ideas must challenge existing norms, and at first this will appear as deviance. If this is suppressed, society will be unable to make necessary adaptive changes and will stagnate


Functionalists identify further positive functions of deviance

-Safety valve: Davis argues that prostitution acts to release men's sexual frustrations without threatening the nuclear family
- Warning light: Cohen argues that deviance indicates that an institution is malfunctioning; e.g. high truancy rates may indicate problems with the education system


Criticisms of Durkheim

1) Durkheim claims society requires a certain amount of deviance to function but offers no way of knowing how much is the right amount
2) Durkheim and other functionalists explain crime in terms of its function. But just because crime does these things doesn't necessarily mean this is why it exists in the first place.


Merton's strain theory

Merton argues that people engage in deviant behaviour when they cannot achieve socially approved goals by legitimate means. His explanation combines:
-structural factors: society's unequal opportunity structure
- cultural factors: the strong emphasis on success goals and weaker emphasis on using legitimate means to achieve them


Strain between structural and cultural factors

For Merton, deviance is the result of a strain between the goals a culture encourages individuals to aim for and what the structure of society actually allows them to achieve legitimately


The American Dream

The American Dream emphasises 'money success'. Americans are expected to pursue this goal by legitimate means, e.g. education, hard work. The ideology claims that American society is meritocratic. But in reality, poverty and discrimination block opportunities for many to achieve by legitimate means. The resulting strain between the cultural goal (money success) and the lack of legitimate opportunities produces frustration and a pressure to resort to illegitimate means. The pressure is increased by the fact that American culture puts more emphasis on achieving success at any price than upon doing so by legitimate means. Winning the game is more important than playing by the rules


Deviant adaptations to strain

Merton seeks to explain different patterns of deviance. He argues that an individual's position in the social structure affects how they adapt to the strain to anomie. He identifies five adaptations:


1. Conformity

Individuals accept the culturally approved goals and strive to achieve them legitimately. This is typical of the middle class.


2. Innovation

Individuals accept the money success goal but use illegitimate means to achieve it, e.g. theft. This is typical of those who lack legitimate opportunities, such as the unemployed working class.


3. Ritualism

Individuals give up on the goal, but have internalised the legitimate means and follow the rules for their own sake. - the lower middle class


4. Retreatism

Individuals reject both goal and legitimate means and drop out of society. For example, drug addicts


5. Rebellion

Individuals (such as political radicals) replace existing goals and means with new ones


Strengths of Merton's approach

-Merton shows how both normal and deviant behaviour can arise from the same mainstream goals. Conformists and Innovators both pursue the same goal, but by different means
- He explains the patterns shown in Official statistics- (most crime is property crime, because American society values material wealth so highly. Working class crime rates are higher, because they have least opportunity to obtain wealth)


Subcultural strain theories

Subcultural strain theories both criticise Merton's theory and build on it. They see deviance as the product of delinquent subcultures. These subcultures offer their lower class members a solution to the problem of how to gain the status they cannot achieve by legitimate means


Albert Cohen: Status Frustration- criticises Merton's theory

Cohen argues that much deviance results from the lower classes' inability to achieve mainstream goals by legitimate means such as education. However, he criticises Merton's explanation:
1) Merton sees deviance as an individual response to strain, ignoring the group deviance of delinquent subcultures
2) Merton focusses on utilitarian crime for material gain, (e.g. theft). He ignores non utilitarian crimes, (e.g. assault and vandalism), which may have no economic motive


Cohen notes that working class boys face anomie in the middle class education system

-They are culturally deprived and lack the skills to achieve, leaving them at the bottom of the official status hierarchy.
- As a result, they suffer status frustration. They resolve it by rejecting mainstream middle class values and turn instead to others in the same situation, forming a subculture.


Alternative status hierarchy

For Cohen, the subculture offers an illegitimate opportunity structure for boys who have failed to achieve legitimately:
The subculture provides an alternative status hierarchy where they can win status through delinquent actions. Its values are spite, malice and hostility for those outside it. The subculture inverts mainstream values. What society praises, it condemns.


Cloward and Ohlin: three subcultures

Cloward and Ohlin agree with Merton that working class boys are denied legitimate opportunities to achieve and that their deviance stems from their response to this. Bu they note that not everyone responds in this way by turning to innovation (utilitarian crime). Some resort to violence, others drug use.


What is the key reason for these differences according to Cloward and Ohlin?

In their view, it is not only unequal access to the legitimate opportunity structure, but unequal access to illegitimate opportunity structures.
Different neighbourhoods provide different illegitimate opportunities to learn criminal skills and develop criminal careers.


What are the three types of subcultures that result from the neighbourhood you live in?

Criminal, Conflict and Retreatist


1. Criminal subcultures

These provide youths with an apprenticeship in utilitarian crime. They arise in neighbourhoods where there is a longstanding, stable criminal culture and a hierarchy of professional adult crime. Adult criminals can select and train those youths with the right abilities and provide them with opportunities on the criminal career ladder.


2. Conflict subcultures

These arise in areas of high population turnover that prevent a stable professional criminal network developing. The only illegitimate opportunities are within loosely organised gangs. Violence provides a release for frustration at blocked opportunities and an alternative source of status earned by winning 'turf' from rival gangs


3. Retreatist subcultures

The 'double failures' who fail in both the legitimate and illegitimate opportunity structures often turn to a Retreatist or 'dropout' subculture based on illegal drug use.


Evaluation of Cloward and Ohlin

- Like Merton and Cohen, Cloward and Ohlin ignore crimes of the wealthy and the wider power structure, and over predict the amount of working class crime.
-But, unlike Cohen, they try to explain different types of working class deviance in terms of different subcultures
- They draw the boundaries too sharply between the different types. Actual subcultures often show characteristics of more than one type
-Like Cohen's theory, Cloward and Ohlin's is a reactive one- they explain deviant subcultures as forming in reaction to the failure to achieve mainstream goals. This wrongly assumes that everyone starts off sharing these same goals.