Outline and assess Functionalist explanations of crime and deviance.

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Outline and assess Functionalist explanations of crime and deviance.

This question includes assessment of your understanding of the connections between crime and deviance and sociological theory.

Functionalist explanations of deviance begin with society as a whole looking for the origins of deviance in the nature of society, not the biological or psychological make up of an individual. Functionalists favour quantative methods to look at society, using statistics to see society as a whole, rather than looking at the individual’s effect on society.

        The majority of Functionalist’s ideas on crime derive from the work of Durkheim. Durkheim believes that crime in inevitable because not every member of society shares the same values and norms; every society has crime, particularly the most advanced industrial societies. Crime is seen as not only inevitable, but functional to society because it allows for change, which is vital for society to function. Durkheim argues that crime brings society together, as in the case of the Soham murders. From this point of view it can be questioned what the function of punishment is, Durkheim believes punishment is a form of social control and act as a signal to people. A.K Cohen developed Durkheim's ideas further, providing further possible functions of deviance. Firstly deviance can act as a safety valve providing an expression of discontent. Cohen uses the example of prostitution, he believes this protects the institution of the family and provides a release from the stress of family life without undermining family stability because the relationship between prostitute and client has no emotional attachments. In other words it is fine for a man to use a prostitute, but not to have an affair because that would jeopardise the family! Cohen believes that deviance acts as a warning device too indicate that an aspect of society is malfunctioning, thus drawing attention to it and allowing the problem to be resolved. An example of this is the Los Angeles riots that drew attention to the mistreatment of blacks, likewise the Steven Lawrence case.

        Durkheim and Cohen’s work is important because it moved ideas away from biological and psychological explanations for deviance, rather seeing it being society itself creating crime. However, other sociologists believe the functions are too narrow and class differences are not examined.

        Merton’s work developed Durkheim’s ideas on deviance looking at the class structure, which Durkheim did not. Merton also comes from a functionalist perspective and believes that the origin of deviance lies in the class structure of society. Merton uses the USA as an example, looking at 1930s US culture. He identifies financial success as the major value held by Americans in the ‘30s as part of the “American Dream” which states that every member of society has equal opportunities to achieve success. Merton goes on to write about ‘goals’ and ‘means’, by ‘goals’ Merton means the values of society such as financial success, and by the ‘means’ he means the norms of society; the way the goals are achieved. Merton ideas are known as the strain theory; he sees the strain emerging between the goals and means, in other words the higher the person is in the class structure the easier it is for them to have the means to achieve the goals. The strain comes because the means are not available to the lower classes. This leads to Merton's idea of ‘anomie’ or normlessness, in this situation norms no longer direct behaviour and deviance is encouraged.

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        Merton outlined five possible ways in which members of American society could respond to success goals. The most common response is conformity where members of society respond to both goals and means and accept the ideas. Innovation occurs when the normative means of achieving success are rejected, but the goals are still existent, so the individual turns to alternative methods of achieving the goals, in other words deviance. Merton argues that members of the lower class are more likely to turn to this method because they are least likely to succeed via conventional methods. Ritualist is the next idea Merton ...

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