How Do Early Functionalists See Crime And Criminal Behavior
How Do Early Functionalists See Crime And Criminal Behavior Early functionalist perspectives on crime and criminal behavior emerged as a significant framework within sociology during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Prominent functionalist theorists, such as Emile Durkheim and Robert Merton, offered unique insights into the role of crime in society and how it serves various functions. This discussion will delve into their views, shedding light on how early functionalists perceived crime and criminal behavior.
Emile Durkheim, often considered the father of modern sociology, made substantial contributions to the functionalist understanding of crime. Durkheim argued that crime is a normal and necessary aspect of any society. His views can be summarized in the following key points:
Social Integration and Anomie: Durkheim emphasized the importance of social integration, which is the degree to which individuals feel connected to their society. He argued that crime arises when there is either too much social integration (mechanical solidarity) or too little social integration (organic solidarity).
In societies characterized by mechanical solidarity, where individuals share similar values and norms, there is a high degree of social integration. Crimes in such societies often involve acts that threaten the collective conscience, leading to strong social reactions against the offender.
In contrast, in societies characterized by organic solidarity, where individuals have diverse roles and values, there is a lower level of social integration. Durkheim introduced the concept of anomie to describe a state of normlessness and breakdown of social bonds. In such societies, crime may occur as individuals struggle to adapt to changing norms and expectations.
Positive Functions of Crime:
Durkheim argued that crime performs several positive functions for society. It acts as a safety valve, allowing individuals to express dissatisfaction with existing norms and institutions without resorting to revolution or social upheaval. Crime also reinforces social cohesion by uniting members of society against the offender. Moreover, it can serve as a mechanism for social change by challenging outdated norms and paving the way for new ones.
Crime, according to Durkheim, helps define the boundaries of acceptable behavior in a society. By identifying what is deviant or criminal, societies clarify their shared values and norms. This, in turn, reinforces social solidarity and cohesion.
Robert Merton, another influential functionalist theorist, expanded on Durkheim’s ideas in the mid-20th century. He introduced the concept of strain theory, which examines how social structures and cultural expectations can lead to criminal behavior. Merton’s key points include:
Cultural Goals and Institutional Means:
Merton argued that American society, in particular, places a strong emphasis on culturally defined goals such as financial success and the “American Dream.” However, not everyone has equal access to the institutional means (education, employment, etc.) to achieve these goals.
Strain and Anomie:
When individuals experience a disconnect between the culturally prescribed goals and their access to legitimate means for achieving those goals, they may experience strain. This strain can lead to a state of anomie, where individuals feel disconnected from the norms and values of society.
Modes of Individual Adaptation:
Merton proposed five modes of individual adaptation to strain, one of which is innovation. Innovation involves individuals pursuing cultural goals through non-conventional means, often leading to criminal behavior. Merton’s theory highlights how structural factors can contribute to criminal behavior as individuals seek alternative paths to success.
Social Structure and Anomie:
Merton’s strain theory underscores the role of social structure in shaping criminal behavior. He argued that the prevalence of certain goals and the availability of legitimate means vary across social classes, which can contribute to differential rates of crime among different groups.
In summary, early functionalist perspectives on crime and criminal behavior, as articulated by Durkheim and Merton, viewed crime as a normal and even necessary aspect of society. They emphasized the role of social integration, the positive functions of crime, and the influence of societal structures and cultural expectations in shaping criminal behavior. These theories contributed significantly to the understanding of how crime is not merely a breakdown of social order but can also serve important functions in maintaining and evolving social systems.