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June 10, 2008 / C H Thompson

Marxist, Functionalist and Subcultural explanations (part 2)

For example functionalists see crime as a threat to social order. Someone who commits a crime or a deviant act has gone against the shared norms and values of society. Some people are socialised into crime. However, some functionalists see crime as being normal’ and also, an integral part of all healthy societies.’ While too much crime constitutes a threat to social order, too little crime or deviance is unhealthy. It shows that the norms and values of a society are so strong that they prevent the innovation and change necessary for a healthy society. Crime and deviance can be viewed as functional[CT1] .

Durkheim argued that by having public punishments and executions for criminals, society was reminded of its shared norms and values. Also, Kingsley Davis, (1961) argued that crime and deviance can act as a safety valve. He claimed that there is a conflict between a man’s instinctual need for sexual satisfaction and society’s need to restrict the legitimate expression of sex to within the family. Therefore, prostitution is functional because it provides sexual satisfaction without threatening the family as an institution. YES MARRIED MEN SHOULD USE PROSTITUTES!!!
However, it is argued that suggesting functions for crime and deviance is not the same as finding an explanation for them. Downes and Rock, (2003) said: “It is one thing to assert that crime can be made to serve some social end or other once it has occurred- for example, to heighten solidarity by uniting against the offender. It is another step altogether to explain crime as promoted in advance by society to bring about that end[CT2] .’
There are subcultural theories which lean towards functionalism. In 1955 Albert Cohen came up with status frustration.’ Many working class youths who cannot gain status legitimately, become frustrated and therefore try to gain status through illegitimate means. They create their own subculture and reject the norms and values of mainstream society. Although they have failed in mainstream society, they can solve their problems by gaining status and respect from their peers within a delinquent subculture. The crime committed within these subcultures is often non-utilitarian, i.e. it is done for no financial gain. For example vandalising a building does not make money for the criminal. However, the criminal will gain status among his peers[CT3] . Cohen’s theory offers a good explanation for non-utilitarian crime (this means there’s no financial gain), and why crime is committed in groups[CT4] . However, there are other explanations for working class delinquency.


[CT1]How can crime and deviance be seen as functional?

[CT2]What type of criticism of functionalism is this? It’s a one word answer!

[CT3]You could make a synoptic link to which past module here…..

[CT4]Why is this seen as being a functional perspective of subcultural behaviour?

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