Crime and Deviance Theme 1 - Consensus Theories


Durkheim and Crime

  • Crime is inevitable - even in a 'society of saints' there would still be crime, because high standards mean that even the smallest crime would be seen a major offence
  • Although a bit of crime is good, too much crime causes society to tip out of balance
  • Crime performs positive functions:                                                                                                                                                                               

1. Social Regulation - the laws marks the extremities for acceptable behaviour
2. Social Integration - communities come together in sadness or in outrage at the crime, which     brings people closer together and strengthens social cohesion
3. Social Change - when the law is out of step with the feelings and values of the majority, legal reform is necessary                                                                                                                                                                                                         


  • Durkheim talks about crime in general terms and fails to distinguish between different types of crime - some crimes can be dysfunctional 
  • He suggests that the CJS benefits everyone but Marxist and Feminist analysis disproves this
  • Assumes that everyone has the same norms and values but Post-modernists argue that society is too diverse for this to be the case
  • Interpretivists argue that the function of crime cannot be judged objectively - it depends on the individual
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Social Control Theory and Crime

  • Socialisation into shared values produces consensus (unity) between people about appropriate behaviour 
  • A healthy society is characterised by a high level of value consensus
  • Stable cultural subsystems (institutions) are crucial for socialisation into shared norms and values - individual freedom is limited but this is seen as a good thing
  • Crime is dysfunctional (criticism of Durkheim) because crime breaks the law and the law is the formal written code of acceptable behaviour agreed by everyone in society
  • Criminals break value consensus because they have not been properly socialised                                                                                                 


  • Talcott Parsons 
  • George Murdoch
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Bond of Attachment Theory and Crime

  • Criminal activity occurs when an individual's bond to society is weakened. This attachment depends on the strength of social bonds that hold people to society:                                                                                                                               

1. Attachment - sense of belonging in society
2. Commitment -
investment in society (what do they have to lose?)
3. Involvement -
free time/opportunity to commit crime 
4. Belief - 
belief in norms and values                                                                                                                                                           


  • Detachment from cultural subsystems is insufficient to explain why someone turns to crim as there are many other underlying factors which can explain it better
  • Has a 'blame the victim' mentality
  • Most of the evidence supporting Social Control Theory is statistical. Marxists criticise the use of official statistics because they are recorded by the ruling class so the statistics will reflect working class crime more than middle class crime.                                                                                                                        

KEY THEORIST: Travis Hirschi 

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Strain Theory and Crime

  • Society is built on the 'American Dream' - pursuing a goal of success which was measured in terms of the acquisition of wealth and material possessions
  • People were expected to achieve these goals through legitimate means (i.e. school and work)
  • However, these goals were not attainable for all because the means to achieving them were not distributed fairly (illegitimate opportunity structure) 
  • Concept of anomie - a strain or tension between the goals and the means, which produces unsatisfied aspirations
  • This leads to an innovative response, whereby people's commitment to the goals are strong but their commitment to the legitimate means are weakened                                                                                                                


  • Helps to understand white collar crime and crimes for monetary gain
  • Criticised for focusing too much on the existence of one common goal in society when there are many goals, not just for money
  • Subcultural Theorists argue that it focuses too much on crime as an individual act rather than a group act                                                                                                                                                                                                        

KEY THEORIST: Robert Merton

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Subcultural Theory and Crime

  • Deviance is the result of whole groups breaking away from society and a result of these groups conforming to their own deviant norms and values
  • In constrast to Social Control Theory, it is the pull of the peer group that encourages crime, rather than their lack of attachment to society
  • Helps to explain non-utilitarian crimes such as vandalism - creates excitement, gives you status etc. 
  • Deviance is a collective response to marginalisation                                                                                                                                                 


  • (Links to Strain Theory) Working class boys are denied status in society - they strive to be like the middle class and want to achieve the same goals but lack the means to do this 
  • This leads to status frustration - a sense of personal failure and inadequacy
  • Boys react to this by forming subcultures - they're all going through the same thing which creates a sense of belonging 
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Criticisms of Subcultural Theory and Status Frustr

  • Paul Willis' Study of the Lads - represents a Marxist critique of subcultural theory. Subcultures were formed to 'have a laff' in a system which boys identified as irrelevant to their futures. Boys do not aspire to be middle class, they know that they're working class and reject the middle class system of school. This is known as counter-school culture
  • David Matza - there are no distinct subcultures amongst young people. All groups in society share a set of subterranean values which are deviant values that encourage us to go against the social norm (drinking, partying, swearing in public etc.). These values are usually kept under control but peak at leisure times
  • Post-modernists - argue that the nature of subcultures have changed; they're much more common. Subcultural Theory assumes that there are mainstream values to deviate from but because these subcultures are normal, Subcultural Theory is rendered irrelevant in helping to understand crime and deviance
  • Cloward and Ohlin - argue that Subcultural Theory doesn't allow for the diversity of responses found amongst working class youth, who find the means to achieve the goals blocked. The illegitimate opportunity structure affects what type of subculture forms in repsonse to status frustration: criminal, conflict or retreatist
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Underclass Theory and Crime

  • The underclass refers to people who are long term unemployed and are effectively welfare dependent
  • The next generation were being socialised into a culture of worklessness and were not constrained by ordinary norms and values 
  • The result of this would be high crimes rates and low participation in the workplace                                                                                                                   


  • The government, media and police all exaggerate and amplify the deviance of the underclass (moral panic)
  • Exaggeration of the criminality of the underclass performs the ideological function of maintaining social control - people know that this behaviour is 'wrong' and therefore look down on it                                                                                                                                                                

KEY THEORIST: Charles Murray 

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