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Sociological explanations of crime and deviance

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Crime and Deviance Essay Functionalist approaches in sociology derive mainly from the work of Emile Durkheim at the end of the nineteenth century. He believed societies were held together by shared values and economic interdependence. There is always according to Durkheim, the possibility of collapse of society if the values are not constantly reaffirmed and passed on from one generation to the next. Therefore the maintenance of values is a crucial function of society. According to Durkheim, furthermore there are two important elements to understand crime, which can be seen as contradictory. A limited amount of crime is necessary and beneficial to society, so much so that society could not exist without some form of deviance. However, too much crime is bad for society and can assist to bring about its collapse. Thus the amount of crime determines what is beneficial or destructive for society. Marxists argue that society is dominated and controlled by those who own the 'commanding heights' of industry, commerce and finance. They believe the definition of what is criminal reflects the dominant social values. Causing the death of another person while in a fit of temper, for example, during a street brawl, is regarded as murder. Yet the death of a factory worker due to their work environment is, at worst, worthy of a fine. ...read more.


Thus, as societies become more-complex in terms of the large amount of social relationships that exist, a mechanism to control these types of relationships has to be developed - and this mechanism is, in effect, a legal system. Legal systems develop in order to codify moral behaviour and, in doing so, Durkheim argued, this process lays the groundwork for our understanding of the functions of both law and crime. Durkheim argues that people are shaped by their social experiences and it follows that if the collective conscience is weakened (by, for example, too much criminal behaviour), the moral ties that bind people together are also weakened. When this happens, the concept used by Durkheim to express this weakening of moral ties was that of anomie: In a literal sense, this concept can be taken to mean a state of normlessness - a situation in which no norms of behaviour are in action. One of the major criticisms of Durkheim's general work, in relation to crime, has been the idea that he ignores the way in which power is a significant variable in relation to the way in which laws are created and maintained in any society. Thus, whilst Durkheim argued that the collective conscience was the objective /expression of the values held by everyone in society, Erikson attempted to develop Durkheim's basic ideas about such things as the boundary setting function of law. ...read more.


A second method is ensuring the ruling class has its way through the use of pressure group activity. Changes in the law are generally results from pressure group lobbying of the government. Not all laws, however, are seen to be entirely for the benefit of the ruling class. Clearly many laws do genuinely protect the working class- obvious ones would be the laws on rape, drunken driving and safety at work. Genuine concessions can be gained either when the interests of the powerful and the ordinary people overlap or when representative pressure groups are able to push through reforms in the interest of the wider population. All of the approaches explored about crime and deviance claim there is a consensus of beliefs and values around which society coheres. Crimes are generally viewed as activities that break this consensus and consequently threaten the continuing stability and existence of society. Functionalists explain individuals' motivations to commit crime in terms of their commitment to society, although very different explanations have been put forward throughout. One approach, associated with Merton, is that people commit crime because they are unable to achieve the goals of society legally. On the other hand, Hirschi claims that people perform criminal acts because they are simply not committed to society. As this shown above, theories of crime and deviance will always be in conflict, however will maintain to give a great insight into the sociology of crime. ...read more.

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