Crime & Society - Durkheim's Theory of Crime

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How might Durkheim’s concept of anomie be used to explain the deviant behaviour that is becoming apparent in all strata of society?

Emile Durkeim, describes how societies begin in simple forms of interaction and are held together by solidarity and likenesses. These homogenous societies he called “mechanical” with the growth of societies, together with technical and economic advances, make the inter-relationships more complicated and diverse. Members of society become more inter-dependent (“organic societies”), but viewed these changes as being natural and unavoidable, leading to greater happiness for individuals because they were released to enjoy goods produced by others and become a healthier society (a).

Law plays an important role in both types of society law. In Durkheim’s view he felt crime was a normal occurrence and it was impossible to have a society totally devoid of crime, as all societies have rules and sanctions in case these are broken. Punishment deters crime but maintains social cohesion, setting boundaries and delivering order (“functionalism”). Healthy levels of crime are most likely in mechanical societies as they have a natural cohesion. An unhealthy level is more likely to arise in an organic society and is the result of the law being inadequate to regulate the interactions of the various parts of that society. The incomplete integrations gives rise to anomie, the result of which is excessive or unhealthy levels of crime.

Durkheim used three levels of division: (i) a combination of financial crisis and industrial conflict, (ii) rigid and unnatural class division, (iii) an abnormal division of labour. Before anomie can be said to exist, the major factor which needs to be present is a financial or industrial crisis – a depression as in 1930s or unrealistic and precarious prosperity, stating “No living…...

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