Crime and deviance are acts that will elicit dissent from society.
They take various forms and involve various concepts and theories. It
will be the aim of this paper to explore those that are considered to
be functional for society.
It was Emile Durkheim who first clearly established the logic behind
the functional approach to the study of crime and deviance when he
wrote The Rules of Sociological Method and The Division of Labour.
In those works, Durkheim argued that crime and deviance is “an
integral part of all healthy societies”. He reasoned that crime and
deviance are not only inevitable, but also functional for society and
that they will only be considered dysfunctional when they reach
abnormally high or low levels.
His theory of functionalism rooted from his amazement with how society
was able to keep itself intact amidst the social, political and
economic upheaval provoked by the Industrial Revolution. He found that
the social glue holding everything in place was: value consensus,
social solidarity and collective conscience; and that crime and
deviance had a role in this equation.
“Deviance” is a wide-ranging term used by sociologists referring to
behaviour that is off-tangent from social normalities, and that
“crime” is a variant of deviance, only that it “comprises activities
or actions which are deemed so damaging to the interests of the
community” (Pease, 1994) that some form of identification and action
must be done against the perpetrator. It follows that all crime are,
by definition, deviant behaviour, but not all forms of deviance are
In the pre-industrial days, societies were small. Social organisation
was kept by closely-shared norms and values. These relationships
tended to be close and personal and it served the basis for social
order. As societies expanded due to the economic demands posed by the
Industrial Revolution, Durkheim said that the moral ties which bounded
society together were weakened. Therefore, as society became more
complex, a mechanism was engineered to effectively regulate these
relationships and the result was the legal system. The codification
of moral behaviour, through laws, created guide-lines for large-scale
societies. The foundation of these boundaries is in effect a function
of crime and deviance, because without crime and deviance, on what
basis would these laws be drafted upon?
It follows that when a crime is committed, the legal locomotive will
set in to punish the convicted accordingly. Without dwelling into the
functions of punishment, the concept of Durkheim’s Degrading
Ceremonies must be explained. Through agencies like the mass media and
the Courts (when conducting public hearings), criminal behaviour would
be publicised. The publicising of these acts functions to make the