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Functionalist view of crime Cheat Sheet by

WJEC A2 Paper 1 2024


-The functi­onalist view of crime looks at society as a whole and not the indivi­dual. It seeks to explain the nature of crime within society. Other theories such as Marxism and feminism may critique the functi­onalist view. Two key thinkers who support functi­onalism are Durkheim and Merton.


To conclude, functi­ona­lists believe that the working class and those less fortunate are more likely to become criminals and deviate from the standards of the rest of society. This is due to factors such as status frustr­ation, illegi­timate means and strain theory. Theorists such as matza and miller critique this theory while Sutherland and Cressey promote the functi­onalist view.

Crime is necessary it helps maintain social order.

-One such function is boundary mainte­nance, meaning that public displays of punish­ments in courts are seen by all and the values that were broken by the crime become streng­thened as society are reminded of the conseq­uences of breaking the laws of society.
-Furth­ermore, Durkheim also argued that boundary mainte­nance also serves as an integr­ating function for society. Durkheim explained when a crime occurs there is public outrage streng­thening community bounds and social cohesion, this reinforces value consensus and the collective consci­ence.
-However, Durkheim ignored that fact that crime does not ways produce social solidarity - in some cases it could cause isolation and divisi­veness. For example, women/­elderly reading about crimes that affect them may be afraid to go out at night - therefore not producing a sense of community- quite the opposite. Salvesberg (1995) indivi­dua­lis­m/c­oll­ect­ivism).

Morton’s Strain theory

-Merton argues that society places an emphasis on success and achiev­ement, but not everyone has the means.
-According to this theory societal structures can pressure indivi­duals into committing crime, due to the stress of achieving goals. In turn this creates Merton's idea of anomie as indivi­duals are unable to follow the dominant norms of society.
-This is due to the dysfun­ctional balance between goals and means available to achieve them.
-He argued that society set certain goals and provide socially approved means. Writing in the USA Merton saw the main goals as wealth and power, as repres­ented in the American dream, which claimed even the poorest had legitimate opport­unities to reach the highest level of society.
-There­fore, Merton has explained how those without legitimate means or have been pressured to succeed, turn to deviancy due to frustr­ation. The five responses being confor­mity, innova­tion, ritualism, retreatism and rebellion. However, Merton's view assumes there is a value consensus that everyone strives for 'monetary success' and ignores the possib­ility that some may not share this goal.

failed to consider illegi­timate opport­unity

-Cloward and Ohlin criticise Cohen, as he failed to consider the illegi­timate opport­unity structure. This is where in one area there may be a thriving criminal subcul­ture, while in another this subculture may not exist. Thus, in the first area adoles­cence has more opport­unity to be a successful criminal, as adult criminal networks take on a younger *appre­ntice' criminal.
-They believe there is greater pressure on the working class to deviate because they have less opport­unity to succeed by legitimate means. They identify three responses to this situation, criminal subcul­tures such as burglary, conflict subcul­tures such as organised crime and retreatist subcul­tures such as alcohol abuse. Thus, explaining how the working class are more likely to become criminals.
-Although, Taylor, Walton and Young contest this for assuming that every individual is committed to the success goal of achieving wealth. For example, hippies make a conscious choice to reject conven­tional goals.

crime is inevitable and a normal aspect of life.

-It is inevitable because not every member of society can be as equally committed to the collective sentiments of society. It is impossible for all to be alike'. This means it is also functi­onal, it only becomes dysfun­ctional when the rate is too high or too low.
-If collective sentiments are too strong there will be little deviance, but neither will there be any change or progress in society. He believes all societies need change to remain stable and healthy, if society acts positive towards deviancy it will become nondev­iant.
-There­fore, the collective sentiments need to have 'moderate energy, so they do not crush origin­ality. An example of social change through deviance is the suffra­gettes.
-Thus, showing how social order is maintained by shared values and how to understand the functi­onalist view of crime.
-On the other hand, Taylor Walton and young argue that crime itself is not functional for society. It is instead just the publishing of crime and public punishment that helps unite society.

deviance amoung middle class boys.

-In his subcul­tural theory of status frustr­ation, Cohen focuses on deviance amoung middle class boys. He argues that lower workin­g-class boys want success but cannot achieve their goals because cultural depriv­ation leads to educat­ional failure and dead-end jobs.
-They suffer from status frustr­ation and turn to criminal paths to achieve success.
-An altern­ative set of norms and values is adopted, known as delinquent subcul­ture, which reverses mainstream culture by valuing activates such as stealing, vandalism and truancy
-These boys gain status by striking back at a system that deemed them as failures. Therefore, explaining how functi­ona­lists believe workin­g-class boys are more deviant than others.
-However, Box argues Cohen's theory only applies to a minority of delinq­uents. The rest accept mainstream standards of success but resent being seen as failures and turn against those who label them as these or look down on them.

why most people dont commit crimes.

-Hirschi focuses on why most people do not commit crimes rather than why they do. He identifies four social bonds that keep people closely connected to the value consensus and ensures social control and order.
-According to this theory, those unlikely to commit crimes are those with strong attach­ments, commit­ments, beliefs and are involved. Therefore, suggesting those who do commit crimes are margin­alised young and single, due to weakened bonds. Indivi­duals with stronger bonds to society or societal institutes are less likely to engage in criminal behavior, for example Farrington and West found 6% of their w/c male study did 50% of crime.
-There­fore, Hirschi explains that his control theory suggests that social bonds are necessary to reduce crime. However, it ignores the reasons for deviant behaviour for each person, not all forms of crime are easily applicable to the four variables. For example, white collar crime, these people are usually well integrated into society with strong bonds.


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