Functionalist theories of crime

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  • Functionalist theories of crime
    • Functionalist approaches to deviance
      • macro-perspective
      • More interested in the social structures and processes that lead to deviance than individual motivations
      • Assume that everyone in a culture shares a common set of norms and values.
        • Collective Conscience
          • Maintain the balance of society.
      • Sometimes, when social order is out of balance, a state of normlessness or anomie exists.
        • Communities no longer exercise control and people can become deviant or criminal.
    • Emile Durkheim on deviance
      • Believed crime to serve a social function for society.
        • Identifies crime as being a safety valve
          • People can express their discontent or satisfy needs safely e.g Cohen and prostitution
          • Crimes can be a form of warning that some element is not working well, so society can create strategies or policies to deal with them.
        • Crime and Deviance can be creative and good for society as it promotes social change
          • Social reformers like Gandhi, suffragettes and Nelson Mandela were imprisoned for breaking laws in their lifetimes
        • Crime and deviance can be destructive.
          • Rapid social change and disorganisation leads to a state of 'anomie'
        • Deviance strengthens social bonds
          • When people share opinions of disproval they feel closer to each other
        • Crime sets boundaries.
          • People know what is not accepted.
        • Responses to crime can initiate social change
      • Durkheim identified various types of criminal
        • Genetic criminals who have a biological reason for their crimes
        • Functional rebels who act to identify a strain in the social system
        • Skewed deviants who are improperly socialised.
          • These can be dealt with through social control
    • Robert K Merton and social strain theory
      • Based on Durkheim's writing e.g anomies and skewed deviants
      • Structuralist
      • Whilst many people have the 'American Dream' as a goal, not everyone has the means to achieve it.
        • Those who do not have these means may resort to crime to achieve these goals. Those who do have the means, will stick to social norms.
          • Conformity
            • People cope by following the rules in the hope of success
          • Innovation
            • People are committed to their social values, but seek alternate ways of achieving wealth and success
          • Ritualism
            • People just 'go through the motions' without real expectations and gain satisfaction in other ways.
          • Retreatism
            • People reject the goal and the methods, so they may become drug addicts or turn to alternative lifestyles
          • Rebellion
            • People aim to replace shared values with alternatives and may even use violence to get there.
    • Albert Cohen and functionalist subcultural theory
      • Criticised Merton as deviance is not individual, but collective
        • Working-class males are particularly linked to crime and gang culture
        • Much delinquent and criminal behaviour is not about acquiring goods or wealth, but is destructive, including self-destructive
        • Merton's analysis is 'monocultural'.
          • He assumes that everyone shares the same values, but some groups within society have differing value systems, and these are subcultures.


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