Assess the usefulness of functionalist theories in explaining crime and deviance (21 Marks)
The functionalist approach to analysing deviance and the causes of crime looks at society as a whole. It explains crime and deviance by saying that the source of deviance lies in the nature of society itself rather than in psychology or biology. It should be noted that functionalists see deviance as an inevitable and necessary part of society. Some also consider deviance to have positive aspects for society. In this essay we will assess the usefulness of these functionalist theories, and look at how it helps us explain crime and deviance.
Deviance is the breaking of a social code. Social codes exist because of the shared agreement in society general about what is right and wrong. Society as a whole sees crime and deviance as wrong and punishable.
However, Functionalist sociologist, Durkheim, claims that a certain, limited amount of crime is necessary in society for it to exist. He says that a certain amount of crime means that when the offenders get punished it raises awareness about crime to the rest of the society. The punishment of the offenders can act as a deterrent to others. This is through things such as public humiliation and punishments such as public execution. Also, the criminal justice system creates a “spectacle” which portrays crime as wrong.
However, there are problems with Durkheim’s theory. This is because there is no way to tell what is “too much” crime to be useful and what is the “right amount of crime” for society. Durkheim also suggested that it was possible for people to use their power to change laws about what is seen as crime and deviance. This is through things such as the media with regards to rape within marriage, the rights of the woman etc.
Merton had a different theory to Durkheim. This is called the strain theory. He focused on the “American Dream” where money and wealth is a measure of success. He found that people had to...