A and elsewhere, assess the usefulness of functionalist approaches in explaining crime (21 Marks) Item A Functionalist sociologists focus on how far individuals accept the norms and values of society. Central to their study of crime is the attempt to understand why people break the rules of society. Despite their focus on the importance of shared norms and values, functionalists see a small amount of crime as necessary and beneficial to society. The publicity given to crime highlights the boundaries Of acceptable behavior.
However, the beneficial effects of crime for society are limited; too much crime can indicate problems. Druthers looks at how crime and deviance is inevitable and needed in society as it performs two important positive functions: boundary maintenance and adaptation and change, he says that boundary maintenance is when society reacts to crime and there is social cohesion, and this leads to society condemning the criminal and the punishment given by the social agencies is a way of reaffirming societies shared rules and reinforce social solidarity.
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The media portrays the court case and the punishment; this acts a way of informing members of society and discourages others from rule breaking. Adaptation and change for Druthers is when an individual has an idea or belief which is seen to be deviant by rest of the members of society, they fight and challenge the existing norms and values, in time there values may give way to a new culture and morality and not seen as deviant anymore such as cohabiting couples would be seen as deviant due to the couples not been married but in current times it is not deviant as it is more popular in society.
These changes in values and in society allow society to progress and evolve. Furthermore Druthers acknowledges that crime and deviance are inevitable because not everyone is socialized in the same way with the same norms and values. Functionalism is useful as it demonstrates here when it shows how crime can be necessary and gives crime a function. However Deuterium doesn’t account for any victims that may be involved in crime when discussing the benefits of crime, especially utilitarian crimes. Furthermore Druthers doesn’t specify how much crime is good for society fore we fall into anomie.
New Right sociologists such as Murray would be critical of this as they believe that subcultures which carry out criminal and deviant acts form an underclass which threatens society on the whole rather than strengthening ‘boundary maintenance. However Druthers doesn’t state why people commit crimes, another functionalist who did was Morton. Morton developed a ‘strain theory building on Deuterium’s work. He said that crime was largely committed as a result of individuals not being able to achieve the goals impressed upon them by society (in his case the American Dream).
This led people to turn to unconventional means in order to achieve these goals as they believe that happiness wealth and success are all interchangeable. While Morton does accept that everyone is different, he categorizes people into 5 adaptations to the strain; conformity, innovation, ritualism, retreating and rebellion. Morton can be criticized as it is hard to believe that all people fit into 5 distinct categories with no overlaps. Furthermore Morton fails to explain non – utilitarianism crime, lots of crime is omitted which does not financially benefit the criminals for example vandalism.
Morton also fails to explain crime and deviance that isn’t committed as an individual but instead as part of a group or subculture. Another functionalist that does explain subcultures is Albert Cohen. He argued that delinquents were born from ‘status frustration’. Instead of looking at individuals response to strain and utilitarian crime alone, Cohen states that subcultures ascribe to alternative status hierarchy in which delinquents invert the norms and values that are impressed upon them.
However it is unlikely that young working class boys would consciously do this and would take a certain level of sociological skill. Furthermore this only looks at certain types of subcultures and deviance. Feminists would critique this by arguing that women commit crimes as well, this doesn’t explain organized crime either. Collard and Olin researched subcultures as well, their studies are useful to sociology because he explains the reasons why people commit non-utilitarian crimes and crimes in groups.
He argues that WAC boys commit more crime, to because they’re inherently evil, but instead because they are the most exposed to crime and have the easiest access. Marxist such as Phil Cohen would be criticize this arguing instead that working class boys are pushed towards crime more due to their situations rather than just choosing it as it was easy. He categorizes subcultures into 3 categories, criminal, conflict and retreats. While they do encompass most subcultures it may not be useful to separate subcultures into such clearest boundaries.
It may prevent us from tidying groups individually and make it more difficult to compare groups which overlap. Overall functional has a greatly broad view on crime and deviance, it is useful as it not only puts forward theories explaining the usefulness Of crime and deviance (Druthers) but also the reasons why people commit crime and exert deviant behavior. It looks at both individuals (Morton) as well as groups or subcultures (Albert Cohen and Olin). In some cases it can be too deterministic for example Morton believing that all crime is the result of ‘status frustration’ rather than having multiple causes.