How Crime and Deviance Can Be Seen As Functional for Society

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Crime and deviance are acts that will elicit dissent from society. They take various forms and involve various concepts and theories. It will be the aim of this paper to explore those that are considered to be functional for society.

It was Emile Durkheim who first clearly established the logic behind the functional approach to the study of crime and deviance[1] when he wrote The Rules of Sociological Method and The Division of Labour[2]. In those works, Durkheim argued that crime and deviance is “an integral part of all healthy societies”. He reasoned that crime and deviance are not only inevitable, but also functional for society and that they will only be considered dysfunctional when they
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As societies expanded due to the economic demands posed by the Industrial Revolution, Durkheim said that the moral ties which bounded society together were weakened. Therefore, as society became more complex, a mechanism was engineered to effectively regulate these relationships and the result was the legal system[5]. The codification of moral behaviour, through laws, created guide-lines for large-scale societies. The foundation of these boundaries is in effect a function of crime and deviance, because without crime and deviance, on what basis would these laws be drafted upon?

It follows that when a crime is committed, the legal locomotive will set in to punish the convicted accordingly. Without dwelling into the functions of punishment, the concept of Durkheim’s Degrading Ceremonies must be explained. Through agencies like the mass media and the Courts (when conducting public hearings), criminal behaviour would be publicised. The publicising of these acts functions to make the public aware of the tolerance of society, and also reinforces the society’s opinion of such criminal behaviour. This promotion of “boundary maintenance”[6] brings upon the next function of crime and deviance – integration.

When a crime is so deviant that it far exceeds society’s tolerance, it triggers public alarm and outrage[7] that draws the