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Marxists and Functionalists’ Views on Crime and Deviance Essay


Functionalism and Marxism school of thoughts often present conflicting views on the issue of crime and deviance. Marxism views crime and deviant behaviour as emanating from highly dysfunctional capitalistic societies while the functionalists view crime as positively impacting on the existing social system. These two theories approach crime as a broad social phenomenon that is embedded in existing social constructs.

This essay analyzes the ideas held by both Marxists and Functionalist perspectives to crime and deviance and further attempts to apply these concepts in explanation of crime in modern societies. Also, the essay seeks to explain why people commit crimes in reference to a social and political transition, poverty, globalization of crime and state bureaucracy in order to evaluate the most effective conceptual approach to the explanation of crime.

Marxist and Functionalist Perspective on Crime and Deviance

The functionalist theory originated from Emile Durkheim who viewed crime as an inherent and inevitable component in all societies (Stevens 1). Emile Durkheim emphasized the relationship between social structure and social problems and claimed that crime would continue to persist in society as long as the society was functioning normally. The functionalist view holds that crime serves several functions in society inclusive of; criminals acting as social agents of change, drawing attention to social ills persisting in society, labelling social norms among other functions (Vito et al. 145).

In contrast, Marxism views propose that crime results from persistent injustices in the social order which results in oppression and exploitation of the poor consequently triggering criminal activities in the society (Walsh & Hemmens 208). Marxism criminology emphasizes conflict among the socioeconomic classes which has led to the emergence of crime as an expression of the individual struggle against unjust social conditions. Therefore, while the Marxist perspective aims at unveiling the reasons as to why the criminal system is biased towards the ruling class, the functionalists’ perspective seeks to explain why crime is an integral part of a healthy functioning society.

Crime and Transition to Democracy

Political and social transformation is often associated with rising incidences of crime especially when it occurs rapidly causing sudden and unprecedented restructuring of social institutions. The transition to democracy heavily influences the rates of crime as the institutions of social control undergo changes. As a result, new opportunities for the commission of crimes open up leading to increased cases of crime in society.

There exists a very close relationship between politics and crime in South Africa. The rise in crime was especially evident in the 90s when the country was in the process of political transition. The country has further recorded dramatic increases in the number of organized crimes in the region especially in the new democratic order with the country being said to harbour more than four hundred and fifty criminal organizations.

South Africa in Transition

In his conflict theory, Karl Marx argued that class conflict was the major cause of crime in society. This theory stands in the case of South Africa, where during the colonial period when race domination was a major force in the society, apartheid offences were considered as crimes and those who engaged in the struggle justified their violent means as the only available weapon against the oppressive system. The struggle for equality stirred in the society which led to increased acquisition of weapons which were used in addressing other disputes not necessarily relating to political oppression. Consequently, violence in South Africa became widespread and was used to acquire both political and personal aims.

The functionalist perspective views crime as serving several functions in society, the case of South Africa is a clear demonstration of how crime draws attention to social ills prevailing in the society consequently leading to social change. The continuous struggle and demonstrations coupled with the use of violence led to the country’s independence in 1994 and the termination of apartheid.

Poverty and Crime

Views from Marxism holds economic disproportion as the key force that drives humanity where those endowed with resources continuously make use of those who own limited resources (using their power to influence society’s perception and definition of crime). The constant struggle for power and resources often results in crime which persists due to protection of the powerful and oppression of members of lower social status.

Since the capitalist societies promote interests of the powerful in society, its institutions serve the same purpose which explains why the criminal justice system continues to protect the rich by incriminating those who threaten their interests. This argument is valid in modern society where there is a considerable difference between the treatment of street criminals and corporate crime suspects. Stealing goods of less value is often treated more harshly than corporate fraud which may have caused a lot of losses.

The functionalist perspective holds that human beings are selfish by nature and they would use any means in order to achieve their objectives. However, Durkheim argues that such desires would be capped or controlled to avoid conflict of interests in society. The argument that crime is inevitable in the society may provide an explanation as to why the less fortunate engage in crime in order to draw attention to the existing social inequality. According to functionalists, each society has shared norms and values which defines it. Consequently, it can be argued that poor people have been socialized into crime as a means of liberating themselves from an undesirable social situation.

Globalization of Crime and State Bureaucracy

With advanced technology and improved communication means, a commission of a crime on an international level has been simplified. In addition, economic power and political influence have facilitated the emergence of organized transnational crime groups which threaten the stability of international institutions. Transnational organized crime groups enrich themselves through illicit trade and money laundering at the expense of other members of society. Their operations have served to undermine the security of international financial markets and competitiveness of legitimate business consequently impacting negatively on the overall welfare of the society.

The rigid bureaucratic nature of modern political systems has served to promote persistence of crime within societies. Bureaucrats develop a set of political inhibitors which protect international and other powerful criminals against the criminal justice system which is in their control. Therefore, institutions of social control are inadequately equipped to deal with crime and the bureaucratic nature of political administration discourages reforms consequently promoting injustices in society.


Crime and deviance have been explained through the broad perspectives of Marxism and functionalism. While the Marxist perspective views crime in terms of capitalist and class conflict, functionalists view crime as beneficial to society but acknowledge that high rates of crime may pose a threat to social order. Regardless of the perspective, one holds, crime is depicted as resulting from the conflict of interests between members of societies. Therefore, dealing with crime in society will require extensive coordination in goal acquisition.

Works Cited

Stevens, J. William. “Crime according to Marxism and Functionalism,” Helium Inc, 2008. Web.

Vito, Gennaro., Maahs, Jeffrey; & Holmes, Ronald. Criminology: Theory, Research and Policy. Massachusetts: Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2006. Print.

Walsh, Anthony; & Hemmens, Craig. Introduction to criminology: A text/Reader. California: SAGE Publications, 2010. Print.

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IvyPanda. "Marxists and Functionalists' Views on Crime and Deviance." July 14, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/marxists-and-functionalists-views-on-crime-and-deviance/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "Marxists and Functionalists' Views on Crime and Deviance." July 14, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/marxists-and-functionalists-views-on-crime-and-deviance/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Marxists and Functionalists' Views on Crime and Deviance'. 14 July.

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