This essay will be looking at the usefulness of different functionalist approaches to crime and deviance. To do this it will be looking at the psychological causes of crime by Lombroso, the role of crime and deviance in society by Durkheim, the strain to anomie, 5 adaptations study by Merton, the status theory by Cohen the Opportunity structures study by Cloward an Ohlin and the focal concerns study by Miller. When looking at these studies it will also be looking at the advantages and disadvantages of each study. This will then be followed by a conclusion.

The psychological causes of crime study by Lombroso looks at why people commit crime from a biological point of view. His research claimed that there were genetically-determined characteristics found in the “criminal classes” such as, large jaws, high cheekbones and large ears. To find this out, he carried out his study on inmates in Italian prisons. One of the main disadvantages of this study was that it was carried out on people from poor backgrounds; whose physical appearance may have been affected by poverty and poor nutrition meaning that he was basing his study on people who had been socially deprived.

Another disadvantage of his study was that not all people who commit crimes go to jail, such as those who commit white collar crimes and those who are not caught. One of the main advantages of his study was that it lead to a whole list of other studies which explained crime and deviance. Durkheim argued that crime is inevitable, meaning that it is meant to happen. He argued that it is an important part of society as it helps social change to take place. He also argues that too much or too little crime is unhealthy for society and if there is too much or too little, crime becomes dysfunctional.

He believed that in order for society to stay healthy, there must be a certain amount of crime taking place within the society. He also stated that social change depends on deviance meaning that if people are not deviant social change will not take place and society will not change. Merton’s strain to anomie theory was the first theory to argue that culture creates crime. He argued that deviance was a result from the culture and structure of society and that it was socially constructed by society. He also argued that not everyone has the means to achieve the common goals of society.

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This then leads to a strain between their goals and their means of achieving them. Merton argued that there is so much strain on achieving material success as well as cultural goals that many people deviate from the social norms and values. The pressure put on these people to deviate so that they are able to achieve their goals is a strain to anomie. This places some people in a position where they are tempted to use any means in achieving their goals and getting to the top. Merton also identified 5 main adaptations to common goals.

These are Conformists, Ritualists, Retreatists, Innovators and Rebels. Merton claims that crime and deviance is a result of a lack of balance between means and goals during periods of social change. One of the good points about this study was that it was one of the first attempts to explain crime and deviance in terms of culture. This is useful as it helps us to understand the cultural reasons for why people commit crimes. It was also good because it provided an alternative to the previous biological and psychological theories.

An advantage was that it explained crime and deviance in terms of working class people and it also started the development of further theories. However there are also disadvantages to this theory one of the main ones being the fact that there are so many unanswered questions such as why it’s not all people that adopts the deviant adaptations. Another criticism is that it focuses on individuals rather than groups, which is not good as most crimes are committed in groups. Another disadvantage is the fact that it does not explain the reasons to why some people commit non-utilitarian.

It also only looked at one structure of opportunity. One good factor that came out of it was that it lead to the creation of the sub cultural theory. Cohen’s study on status frustration looked at how people committed crimes for the thrill rather than to gain money. This was in response to Merton’s ideas on strain and also to the ethnographic ides of the Chicago school of sociology. Cohen argued that ‘lower class’ boys wanted to achieve the goals that middle class boys achieved but lacked the means to achieve them. This lead to status frustration, meaning they felt inadequate and that they had personally let themselves down.

In order to gain their own personal status they committed deviant offences and used illegitimate ways within their peer groups to gain status from their peers. One of the main criticisms of this study was that it only focused on boys and did not discuss the behaviour or females. Cohen also failed to prove that school was the key place where success and failure are demonstrated. Cloward and Ohlin’s study on opportunity structures built on Merton’s ideas which did not look at the fact that there was a structure that was parallel to the legal structure called the illegitimate opportunity structure.

Part of the idea of this study was that people could work their way up a criminal structure to achieve their goals. They argued that within some sub cultures in society, there is regular illegal career available which has illegal means of achieving society’s goals. They also argued that it is split in to three possible sub cultures, criminal, conflict and retreatist. One of the disadvantages of this study was that it never looked at female deviancy. Miller’s study on focal concerns approached the situation differently suggesting that deviancy was linked to the culture of lower-class males.

He argued that working class males have six ‘focal concerns’ that are likely to lead to delinquency; these being trouble, toughness, smartness, fate and autonomy. Miller believed that young lower class males were pushed towards crime and also that we should see delinquent sub-cultures as an independent cultural phenomenon that is an extension of the lower (working) class. A criticism of this argument is that it provides little evidence to show that these are specifically working class values as they could easily apply to males of higher class.

In conclusion we see that all together, that despite their flaws, all the theories have distinctive positive aspects which all help to explain why people commit crime and deviance. However, what they lack is an explanation to why those in higher classes commit white collar crimes. They all mainly focus on the crimes that are committed by those of the working class ignoring that fact that there is a high amount of crime being committed by those who are higher up in class.


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