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Functionalist Explanations To Crime And Deviance

1339 words - 6 pages

Assess functionalist theories of crime and deviance.
Functionalism is a social structural and social control theory. It believes that it is society that causes the individual to commit crime. Social control theory looks at why people do not commit crime as it says that people are controlled by the primary and secondary agents of social control, such as the family or religion, and so should not commit crime. Functionalism is also a Right Wing theory, which believes that agents of social control like the police are fair and just; law reflects the collective conscience; people are biologically selfish and official statistics are valid. Functionalists included in this essay are Durkheim and ...view middle of the document...

Also, Marxists argue that people are selfish but only because Capitalism makes people selfish as it benefits the ruling class by causing class fragmentation and preventing class solidarity. Capitalists also profit financially from consumerism and the hard work people do in order to consume.

Regardless of criticisms, others have developed his theories. Cohen explains how crime is functional as it can work as a safety valve. In the nuclear family, the husband will become stressed from work but if he cannot be distressed by his wife then he can visit a prostitute who will be able to distress him without there being any emotional ties that could break down the family and so the man can return to the family without any destructive repercussions. Cohen also says that crime can act as a warning device – if there is a high number of truancies in schools then instead of punishing everyone who truants rules can be changed so that less people truant in the future, such as decreasing the amount of homework. Merton also developed Durkheim’s concept of anomie by using the strain theory. It says that people are biologically selfish but that it is not normlessness that causes anomie but people’s reaction to the imbalance between societies emphasised importance of success goals – money, for instance – over institutional means – education and hard work.

Merton is a Functionalist as he believes that there is consensus within society over what the success goals are and he is a social structuralist as perceives societies culture to be the cause for why people commit crime. He also believes, based on official statistics, that the working class commit the majority of crime. He said that there are five responses to the strain: conformist, innovation, ritualist, retreatist and rebellion. Conformists represent the majority of the population who share societies success goals and institutional means. Innovation represents the working class who share societies success goals but lack the institutional means so they commit utilitarian crime. Ritualist represents the lower-middle class who have the institutional means but do not have the success goals. Retreatist represents alcoholics and drug abusers who have lost the institutional means and success goals and finally Rebellion represents activists such as Hippies who do not have societies success goals or the institutional means but forge their own.

Merton’s theory is criticised as it ignores white-collar crime and is seen as deterministic by social action theorists. Marxists disagree that society defines what the success goals are but that it is Capitalists who define it as money as people are socialised by the superstructure and it benefits them as they profit and causes people to work harder. People are socialised to think that money is power so they give the power to the people with money. Cohen’s subcultural theory criticises Merton on the basis that it does not explain delinquent or collective crimes either.


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