Evaluate the usefulness of Functionalist theories to our understanding of crime and deviance (40 marks)
A functionalist analysis of crime and deviance begins with society as a whole. It looks for the source of deviance in the nature of society rather than in the individual. Durkheim argued that crime is an inevitable and normal aspect of social life. Crime is present in all types of society; indeed, the crime rate is higher in the more advanced, industrialised countries. According to Durkheim, crime is an ‘integral part of all healthy societies’. It’s inevitable because not every member of society can be equally committed to the collective sentiments (the shared values and moral beliefs) of society. Since individuals are exposed to different influences and circumstances, it is ‘impossible for all to be alike’. Therefore not everyone is equally reluctant to break the law. Durkheim went on to say that crime isn’t only inevitable, it can also be functional. Durkheim argued that it only becomes dysfunctional (harmful to society) when its rate is unusually high or law. He argued that all social change begins with some form of deviance. In order for change to occur, yesterday’s deviance must become today’s normality. Since a certain amount of change is good for society (so that it can progress rather than stagnate), so is deviance. If the collective sentiments are too strong, there will be little deviance, but neither will there be any change, or progress. Therefore the collective sentiments must have only ‘moderate energy’ so that they don’t crush originality: both the originality of the criminal, and the originality of the genius.
Unlike other major theoretical perspectives such as Marxism, no specific Functionalist criminology exists to speak of, with its own individual interpretations of criminal statistics, the source of criminality and potential policy solutions. Rather functionalism takes a passing look at the issues of deviance in general, rather than crime in particular, while in the process trying to explain whole social problems and patterns. The explanation of deviance is vital to this macro analysis but it does not contain the seeds of a ‘break off’ into the distinctive field of criminology in its own right. Nonetheless, while functionalist criminology, especially in modern times, does not have a large, organised or particularly popular voice, this is not to say that within the work of Durkheim the concept of deviance has been ignored. Far from it, Durkheim has served to generate a great deal of subsequent research and influence other sociological theories on crime and deviance. For example, control theories of crime and deviance. This suggests that Durkheim’s ideas have made a major contribution to the study of crime and deviance.
However, Durkheim doesn’t explain why certain people are more likely to commit crimes than others. He appears not concerned with this problem - he was most interested in the nature of the relationship between...