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Friday, January 1, 2010

Theory of Durkheim/Functionalist Theory about Crime

Friday, January 1, 2010 - 0 Comments

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.

Causes of Crime

Causes of Crime
What are the causes of crime? As already pointed out no single theory can be expounded for committing crime. Few of the many causes may be discussed as under:

Educational System
Unfortunately present day educational system is very defective. The system of education does not lay stress on morality and character, which are effective forces for checking crimes. Similarly we find the education is mostly not vocational biased and does not help the young people to get timely employment. Delay in getting proper employment encourages tendency towards crime.

Poverty is one of the most importance causes of crime. In fact it can be said that it is the root cause of many crimes. Though poverty is a relative term, yet in every form it result in corruption and adopting illegal and underhand means. Poverty results in committing suicide and prostitution as well as bribery and so on. Directly or indirectly poverty is responsible for all sorts of crimes.

In the economic field unemployment plays an important role in committing of crimes. Thus an unemployed young person can become agitator, a pickpocket, robber or a thief. He can become violent and take law into his own hands. In this way unemployment results in many crimes. That is the reason that we find that in countries, which have undeveloped economy, and in which chances of unemployment are marginal, rate of crimes is high.

Political Set up

Our political set up also encourages crimes in our modern times government machineries are slow and inefficient with the result that this becomes premium on the illegal activities of the criminals. Similarly our legal system too is very complex and complicated and the criminals are confident that they can escape free and involve some innocent persons in it. They know that by their illegally earned wealth they can purchase as well as mould the course of law. Not only this, but we find that some of our politicians encourage criminals for one reason or the other.

It has been said that crime is the price, which we pay for industrialization. Due to industrialization many industrial towns develop in which there is no proper residential accommodation particularly for low paid labourers. They are forced to live together in small rooms. Their privacy is lost and rate of sex crimes increases. Standard of their health comes down and indecencies develop. Since these people are required to live away from their families for long, prostitution gets encouragement and bonds of family affection completely go away. Ratio of men to women also gets disturbed due to this forced isolation.

Due to industrialization, there is rapid urbanization and the people leave their village abodes to find employment in the cities. Atmosphere in the cities is quite different than what it is in the villages. These new migrated people suddenly find absence of social control and feel tempted to violate established laws.

Change in Values
As we know that due to industrialization and advancement of science and advancement of science and technology social values have very greatly changed. Today we are more materialists and rational as well as individualists. Collectivism and blind faith is being replaced by new ideas. Due to these changes, social values have also together changed and restrictions considerably reduced. This has resulted in committing many crimes.

Crime and its Relative Theories


Crime is not of the social problems, which effect and influence all societies. There is no society in any part of the world, which is without crimes. Some of these crimes are socially known and the criminals are punished in one way or the other by legally established agencies or socially approved methods. On the other hand there are crimes, which are unknown to society or are committed by persons or agencies in the society, which enjoy special privileges, power, positions and status and the society ignores them.

One of the serious problems of today’s crimes is that in many cases the criminals are socially, politically and economically so powerful that they decide the course of punishment for others while they themselves manage to get escaped completely.

Crime Defined

Different people have defined crime differently. According to Elliot and Merrill, “Crime may be defined as “Crime may be defined as anti-social behaviour which the group rejects and to which it attaches penalties”. Gillin and Gillin say that, “From the legal point of view, crime is an offence against the law of the land”. Karl Mannheim says, “Crime is an anti-social behaviour”. “A crime is an act opposed to the established attitudes of a group as defined by law at a given time or place”. Another definition which has been put forth is that, “A crime is an act opposed to the established attitudes of a group as defined by law at a given time or place”. From the above definitions it is clear that crime is an evil committed against society. It is believed that anti-social elements are responsible for increase in crime rate.

Theories of Crime

There is a desire on the part of every individual to become a law-abiding citizen because punishment for crimes results in pains for which none is prepared. But in spite of this, rate of crimes is increasing. It is said that it is price for living in a modern advanced society. Some of the theories, which have been put forth in this regard, include the one given by the theologists. They are of the view that as long as the hold of religion on the people was strong the rate of crimes was very low because fear of God was there. But now the hold and influence of religion is decreasing and that is responsible for increase in the rate of crimes. Then another theory put forth is by Hedonistic School of Thought. They believe that crime is committed simply to have more pleasure that can be had by legal and proper means. Thus for them attaining happiness is the sole cause of crime.
Ecological School of Thought opinion, social, economic and political conditions are primarily responsible for committing crimes. But Geographical School of Thought lays stress on geography because in their opinion climate, weather and surroundings are responsible for increase and decrease in crime rates. Then is Topological School of Thought, which lays stress on heredity. According to them a criminal is born as a criminal and remains so throughout his life. There is no scope for his improvement. Sociological School of Though lays stress on social conditions whereas Economic School of Thought is of the opinion that economic conditions are responsible for committing crimes.

Criticism of the Theories
But none of these theories can be accepted because these lay stress on one sole cause. Those who believe in theology forget that at no stage it could be historically proved that atheists are more criminals than the priests. Similarly Hedonistic forget that the people even commit crime compelled by their habits. Ecological school laid stress on geographical conditions but do not account for personal causes of crime. Topological school, which stresses on heredity and geographical school of thought who over-estimates the part of geography portray only one-sided picture of the whole show. So holds true of economic and sociological school of thought. Therefore, all these theories are faulty either in one-way or the other. These discuss only one side of the picture but do not present the picture as whole. It is, therefore, rather reasonable to concur and agree with Multiple School of Thought which believes that no exclusive theory is correct for explaining reason of crime. All factors combined together account for committing crime.

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