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Suggest how crime and deviance can be seen as functional for society.

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Q: Suggest how crime and deviance can be seen as functional for society. 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 deviance1 when he wrote The Rules of Sociological Method and The Division of Labour2. 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 normalities3, 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) ...read more.


It was such a massive (and criminal) display of disobedience that the government was forced to rethink its position on the Poll Tax. The manner in which crime and deviation can result in changes to public policies can also be argued that they are necessary, as a function, to prevent the stagnation of society. In Durkheim's words "To make progress individual originality must be able to express itself" and that they may even have "the originality of the criminal" 10 in relation to the era that individual is set in. He used Socrates and Jesus11 as examples of the "creative individual" to illustrate how deviance is necessary for the development of new ideas which allows people to make reassessments of present conditions and stimulate change wherever appropriate. Take the former USSR for example. It had a government that was so ruthlessly suppressive towards innovation that eventually, it imploded. On the other hand, Communist China did what was considered to be a betrayal of Marxism - the promotion of entrepreneurship. Despite doing the unimaginable, the end result was a progressive society that enjoys an economy that is booming exponentially. When we observe crime, deviance and their relation to the legal system, we would certainly draw the connection that crime and deviance had, over the years, crafted an entire career sector for millions of employees12. It can therefore be argued that crime and deviance serves a function in keeping these employees employed. ...read more.


Merton et al's works validates Durkheim's evaluation that although crime and deviance plays an intricate function in society, he did not allocate the burden of blame to deviants. Instead, Durkheim was of the opinion that if an individual deviates, it is only because society had pressured him into doing so as it had failed to allow variations of individual behaviour. In addition, Durkheim also recognised that despite functional, crime and deviance should not be allowed to reach disproportionate levels as this becomes dangerous and in contrast, dysfunctional. Later academics criticised Durkheim and Merton's works to be over-reliant on statistics which glosses over the true picture of crime; and how they had ignored the theoretical problems of the powerful, who are in a position to resist the process of criminalisation17. As we conclude, in light of the above, that crime and deviance plays an essential part of our social fabric, we should keep in mind that the concept of crime and deviance remains a fluid one: it is relative across societies, cultures and even eras. Consider smoking in the 50s. It was a symbol of youth, wealth and power. In the 80s and 90s, as medical research began to unravel the irrefutable harm smoking causes, it was tolerated as a mild deviance and currently, the U.K is even considering banning smoking in entertainment outlets; while in countries like China, it is perfectly acceptable for both parents to be smoking in close proximity of their child. The statement "deviance is in the eye of the beholder"18 is certainly a valid one. ...read more.

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