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Functionalist Explanations of Crime and Deviance

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Functionalist Explanations of Crime and Deviance

Functionalist’s believe that shared norms and values are the basis of social order and social solidarity. They see crime and deviance as dysfunctional to society. However, functionalist’s do see some crime as being ‘normal’.

Merton took functionalist views further by saying that crime and deviance were a strain between the socially accepted goals of society and the socially approved means of achieving them - this strain then results in deviance. The American Dream states that anyone can make it to the top. However, emphasis is placed on material success so people feel pressure to deviate from accepted norms and values. People are tempted to reach the top even by illegal means, he explains this as ‘Anomie’. Anomie means normlessness - where norms no longer guide behaviour and instead anything goes. Merton identifies five possible responses of a strain to anomie. Conformity; people conform even if they are unlikely to achieve the goal. Innovation; accepting the goal of success but have little chance of achieving through normal means, turning to illegal means. Ritualism; abandoning the goal of success but stick to the rules (working in a dead end job). Retreatism; reject the goal of success and normal means to achieve it, drop out of school becoming tramps and drug addicts. Rebellion; reject the conventional goals and means of achieving them and replace them with alternative ways.

Merton’s theory offered an explanation for working class crime but it raises some unanswered questions; Why do some lower classes but not all of them become deviant? His theory focuses on an individual not a group, therefore how can crime and deviance be explained in terms of the strain theory if crime and deviance is mostly collective. Also, Merton cannot explain things like vandalism and violence. Merton is criticised by Valier by...

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