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Functionalist approach to deviance and crime Essay

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Updated: Jul 8th, 2018

Deviance and crime are two very important social problems faced by humanity today. Deviance generally refers to behavior or behaviors which go against what is acceptable by the community. It is action in ways not considered to be normal by the larger society. This is in relevance to the norms established by the society under consideration.

Consequently, what may be considered as an act of deviance in one society may not be so in a different society. Crime on the other hand is utter disobedience to the written laws. It is however true that the written laws are largely influenced by the society’s set of norms. There are different explanations as to why people engage in deviance or crime in the society. This paper looks at the functionalist approach to the explanation of the causes of deviance and crime.

The theory was developed by Durkheim who noticed that traditional societies were better bound by common norms as opposed to the modern societies a condition which he termed as anomie. This being the case, people are at greater liberty to pursue their own interests as opposed to collective interest. Some level of deviance is however healthy as it leads to better adaptation of the society.

The functionalist approach argues that too much individualism leads to increased deviance and crime. This is because a large portion of the society wishes to behave against the established norms as they serve their own interests. Individualism is a selfish approach towards every aspect of life.

The individual is only interested in furthering their selfish interests and often, this approach is in conflict with what is socially acceptable. An example is a case where an adult deprives his/her children of the required necessities of life despite them having them adequately. In such a case, the individual is engaged in deviance as a result of extreme selfishness resulting from individualism.

Secondly, Robert Merton developed the theory by explaining the causes of deviance and crime as a result of strain. Strain here is defined as a condition witnessed within societies whose members cannot access adequate legit channels which enable the achievement of socially defined goals.

This factor is seen as an adequate incentive towards the pursuit of alternative means including deviance and crime. An example of a case where strain causes individuals to be deviant and engage in crime is a case a poor parent faces the challenge of providing for his/her family. The aim of providing for the family is definitely socially defined and acceptable however, they are unable to achieve it in ways which are socially acceptable as they lack the requisite resources and opportunities.

Again, under the functionalist approach deviance and crime are compared to a safety channel. An example is the case of prostitution where the sexual services are availed without significant threat to the concerned person’s marriage. In addition, deviance is seen as being functional due to the fact that it offers the persons charged with the responsibility of managing it with economic and other opportunities.

These views explain the rationale behind the assertion that areas with higher inequality in terms of income and opportunities experience much higher rates of crime and deviance in relation to other societies with high levels of equality. Indeed such trends have been observed across the world.

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