Friday, January 1, 2010

Theory of Durkheim/Functionalist Theory about Crime

Durkheim, Functionalist Theory

According to Durkheim, deviance can serve a number of functions for society.
First deviance helps enhance conformity in society as a whole. Norms are basically abstract and ambiguous, subject to conflicting interpretations. Even criminal laws, which are far more clear-cut than other norm, can be confusing. The criminal at a deviant commits and is punished for provides other citizens with a concrete example of what constitutes a crime. From deviants we can learn the difference between conformity and deviance, seeing the boundary between right and wrong more clearly. Once aware of this boundary, we are more likely to stay on the side of righteousness.
Second, deviance strengthens solidarity among law-abiding members of society. Differing values and interests may divide them, but collective outrage against deviants as a common enemy can unite them. Because deviance promotes social cohesion that decreases crime, Durkheim (1966) described it as a factor in public health, an integral part of all healthy societies.
Third deviance provides a safety valve for discontented people. Through relatively minor forms of deviance, they can strike out against the social order without doing serious harm to themselves or others. As Albert Cohen (1966) suggested, prostitution may serve as a safety value for marriage is male-dominated society, because the customer is unlikely to form an emotional attachment to the prostitute. In contrast, a sexual relationship with a friend is more likely to develop into a love affair that would destroy the marriage.
Fourth deviance can induce social change. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders were jeered and imprisoned for their opposition to segregation, but they moved the United States toward greater social equality.
There is a limit, however, to the validity of Durkheim’s functionalist theory. If deviance is wide spread, it can threaten social order in at least two ways. First, it can destroy interpersonal relations. Alcoholism can tear many families apart. If a friend flies into a rage and tries to kill us, it will be difficult to maintain a harmonious relationship. Second, deviance can undermine trust. If there were many killers, robbers, and rapists living in our neighbour we would find it impossible to welcome neighbours into our home as guests or babysitters. Nevertheless, Durkheim’s theory is useful for demolishing the common sense belief that deviance is always harmful. Deviance can bring benefits if it occurs within limits.


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