Just Sociology

Understanding Crime: Exploring Functionalism Consensus Theories and Other Perspectives

The study of crime has always been an intriguing topic for societies. Individuals, groups, or even societies as a whole may define crime differently depending on what is considered acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

Sociologists analyze crime by applying various theories that highlight the relationship between crime and society. In this article, we will examine two major theories through the functionalist approach: Durkheim’s Theory of Crime and Merton’s Strain Theory of Crime.

Subsequently, we will further explore three key ideas about crime that arise from these theories. These key ideas are (1) Crime is Inevitable, and (2) The

Positive Functions of Crime.

Functionalist Analysis of Crime

Functionalism is a theoretical perspective that examines society by analyzing social structures, institutions, and their importance in maintaining social order. According to functionalists, events and phenomena, including crime, occur for a reason and serve a particular purpose in society.

Thus, understanding crime requires an examination of its functions, meaning that crime should not solely be seen as a violation or transgression of laws. Durkheim’s Theory of Crime

Durkheim argues that crime is inherent to society and serves several functions that need to continue social development.

Specifically, he postulates that crime is a form of social change and essential for the maintenance of collective sentiments, which are fundamental for sustaining society. Collective sentiments are formed in different societies and refer to the shared values and moral beliefs that members of these societies hold.

Therefore, a change in collective sentiments can occur through deviance, which points to any behavior that violates cultural norms. Deviance creates a discussion on morals, values, and ethics, which can contribute to the development of collective sentiments.

Punishment, according to Durkheim, is a means to maintain collective sentiments, and therefore the function of punishment is not to eliminate crimes, but to restore balance, integration, and order in society. For example, punishment for crimes such as theft and murder helps to restore social order by reasserting the importance of shared values and expectations.

Furthermore, Durkheim notes that punishment has significant social significance because it demonstrates the power and authority of society over its members, reaffirming their moral obligation to be lawful. Merton’s Strain Theory of Crime

Another functionalist analysis of crime is Merton’s Strain Theory of Crime.

Merton’s theory emphasizes the importance of the achievement of social goals and the means by which individuals aspire to achieve these goals. According to Merton, society places great emphasis on the attainment of wealth, success, and social status as goals that individuals should strive to achieve.

However, not everyone is afforded the same opportunities, and not everyone has the same means to attain these goals. Therefore, Merton argues that the resulting pressure to achieve these objectives when no legitimate means are available creates a sense of “strain” that pushes people towards criminal behavior.

Merton also suggests that there are five potential routes an individual may take in response to this strain: conformity, innovation, ritualism, retreatism, and rebellion. Conformity refers to the individual’s acceptance of both the goals of society and the legitimate means to achieve them.

Innovation occurs when individuals adopt alternative unlawful means to achieve these goals. Ritualism refers to individuals who reject the society’s goals but continue to follow the legitimate means to achieve these goals.

Retreatism occurs when individuals reject both the goals of society and the legitimate means to achieve them. Rebellion occurs when individuals reject both the goals of society and the legitimate means to achieve them, but also actively seek to establish new goals and means.

Three Key Ideas About Crime

Crime is Inevitable

Durkheim famously postulated that, in advanced industrial societies, crime is inevitable and ubiquitous. This is because, as society becomes more complex and diverse, it experiences significant changes in collective sentiments, such as moral beliefs and values over time.

Deviant behavior challenges these moral beliefs and expectations of society, questioning and reconfiguring what is considered deviant or not. Therefore, it is essential to recognize that crime will always be present in society, and laws and regulations cannot eliminate it.

Positive Functions of Crime

Durkheim and Merton agree that crime has some crucial positive functions though they differ in the specifics. Both sociologists argued that deviant behavior, including crime, plays a necessary and positive role in society.

Durkheim asserted that crime serves the essential function of social change and development, whereas Merton argued that it was necessary to highlight the strains and perceived injustices that exist in particular societies. Both theories acknowledge that crime promotes social integration and helps maintain social order in various ways.


In conclusion, the functionalist approach to understanding crime allows for a more holistic analysis of crime that takes into account society’s structures and institutions rather than purely focusing on the individual criminal. Durkheim’s theory and Merton’s Strain theory provide two different perspectives on the role and functions of crime in society.

By examining crime through a functionalist lens, we can better understand the necessary role that crime plays in society and acknowledge its positive functions. The three key ideas discussed provide valuable insights into the inevitable nature of crime and the positive functions that crime and deviant behavior can serve to promote social regulation, social integration, and social change.The preceding article discussed the functionalist view of crime, exploring Durkheim’s theory, Merton’s Strain theory, and three key ideas concerning crime.

This article expands on the topic, focusing on dysfunctional crime, which refers to crimes that threaten or disrupt social order rather than contributing to it. We will also evaluate Durkheim’s functionalist perspective and examine other perspectives that offer a critical analysis of his ideas.

Too much Crime

The functionalist view perceives crime as playing a crucial role in promoting social order by maintaining collective sentiments and bringing change. However, too much crime can threaten social order, and society can reach its tipping point.

If crime becomes too pervasive, it exhausts society’s capacity for social change and social integration, leading to negative consequences such as mistrust, prejudice, and neglect of the minority. Consequently, if crime persists, it undermines the foundation of social order, which is a fundamental premise of the functionalist view.

Durkheims View of Punishment

Durkheim’s functionalist view argues that punishment serves a positive function rather than a retributive one; punishment is geared towards strengthening the collective sentiments of society. Thus, punishment helps maintain control and balance within society, demonstrating the power and authority of society over its members while reaffirming moral obligations.

However, the type of punishment that a society upholds and the degree to which that society carries out the punishment vary. In addition, different forms of punishment have different effects on individuals and communities.

For example, harsh punishment may deter crime but may also foster resentment and resistance, leading to the breakdown of trust between individuals.

General Terms of Crime

Durkheim’s functionalist approach provides an understanding of how crime functions in society. However, there exist different types of crime, including street crime, white-collar crime, cyber-crime, hate crimes, and environmental crimes.

In order to evaluate Durkheim’s functionalist perspective, one must recognize the different types of crime and evaluate their harm according to their power to disrupt social order, and the values of society.

Marxist and Feminist Analysis of Crime

Marxist and feminist scholars criticize the functionalist view of crime as focusing on the powerful and neglecting the powerless. In this sense, the powerful ignore crimes committed by them while exaggerating the crimes committed by the powerless.

Feminist scholars argue that the criminal justice system is harsher towards women, particularly women of color, and that gender inequality and violence are inextricably linked to crime. Moreover, Marxist scholars argue that the criminal justice system operates in the interests of the elites rather than in the interests of the masses, using crime control as a method to maintain power and control over the marginalized and powerless minorities of society.

Interactionists’ View of Crime

Interactionists look at the individual, rather than at the function of crime. Interactionists explore the relationship between the individual and society and how this relationship shapes behavior.

Thus, they argue that criminal behavior results from a person’s response to the labels they receive, rather than the act itself. Individuals labeled as deviant by society tend to have a weakened sense of self, and as such, the label of deviant further pushes them towards criminal behavior.

Postmodernists’ View of Society

Postmodernists deny the existence of a universal truth or a coherent sense of self in society. Instead, they embrace diversity and celebrate the complexity and multiple perspectives of society.

From a postmodernist view, crime is not inherently good or bad. Instead, what would be considered deviant behavior depends on a community’s collective response to it.

Consequently, the postmodernist perspective sees the functionalist view of crime as too rigid and unresponsive to the human complexity of society.


In conclusion, dysfunction crime is a significant challenge that undermines social order and threatens social integration. Durkheim’s functionalist view of crime presents an understanding of the functions that crime plays in society.

However, there exists a complex relationship between crime and society shaped by power, inequality, labels, and the diversity of perspectives offered by postmodernists. Therefore, any evaluation of crime and society’s responses to crime must take into account different perspectives to determine how they relate to society’s collective sentiments, morals, and ethics.The previous articles discussed the functionalist approach to crime, dysfunctional crime, and evaluated perspectives that offer a critical analysis of Durkheim’s ideas concerning crime.

This article explores related topics to give the reader a broader understanding of the field of criminology. We will examine consensus theories, subcultural theories, and sources, including Haralambos and Holborn and the AQA Sociology A-level specification.

Consensus Theories

Consensus theories share similarities with functionalist theories in that they view society as being stable and organized around shared values, norms, and goals. Consensus theories also emphasize social control and the regulation of behavior.

However, they differ from functionalist theories because they focus less on the positive functions of crime and more on the negative consequences that crime has on social order. According to consensus theories, society is maintained through a social contract that individuals have with each other.

In this contract, individuals agree to relinquish certain freedoms and accept laws and regulations that govern their behavior in exchange for societal benefits such as protection from harm and secure property rights. Additionally, individuals have a shared understanding of what is considered right and wrong, and these shared beliefs contribute to social cohesion.

Consensus theories examine social control methods and the justice system as mechanisms that enforce the social contract. For example, they examine the role of the police, courts, and prisons in maintaining social order.

Consensus theorists argue that when the law is broken, society should respond by providing punishment that fits the crime, and that the punishment should serve as a deterrent to prevent future crime.


To further understand the various theoretical approaches to crime, it is essential to examine sources that offer different perspectives. Haralambos and Holborn’s “Sociology Themes and Perspectives” is an excellent source for anyone seeking an introduction to sociology and the different theoretical perspectives that exist.

This book provides an in-depth analysis of consensus theories, functionalist theories, and other perspectives that examine crime in society. Another important source is the AQA Sociology A-level specification.

This specification presents the foundational concepts that shape the study of sociology and explore topics such as social structures, norms, and values. The specification also provides a comprehensive understanding of the methods used for analyzing social phenomena and the theoretical frameworks that shape our understanding of society, including crime.


In conclusion, understanding the different theoretical approaches to crime requires a broad examination of the field of criminology. Consensus theories provide an alternative perspective to the functionalist view of crime and focus on the negative consequences of crime on social order.

Sources such as Haralambos and Holborn’s “Sociology Themes and Perspectives” and the AQA Sociology A-level specification help to provide foundational knowledge, methods and frameworks for analyzing crime critically. Consequently, a complete understanding of crime and its place in society requires an examination of different perspectives, the sources that offer them, and an evaluation of the strengths and limitations of these perspectives.

In conclusion, the study of crime considers various functionalist and consensus theories to analyze the relationship between society and criminal behavior. Durkheim’s theory on the functions of crime and Merton’s Strain theory emphasize the importance of understanding crime through the context of society’s structures and institutions.

Furthermore, evaluating other perspectives such as Marxist, interactionist, and feminist analyses of crime, and sources such as Haralambos and Holborn and the AQA Sociology A-level specification, allows for a deeper exploration of the field of criminology. Overall, understanding crime requires a multifaceted approach that recognizes the complexities and diversity of society and the various factors that influence criminal behavior.


1. What is the functionalist view of crime?

The functionalist view of crime emphasizes that criminal behavior has a positive function in society, such as bringing about social change or maintaining collective sentiments. 2.

What is the consensus theory of crime? The consensus theory of crime views society as stable and organized around shared values, norms, and goals, and emphasizes social control to maintain social order.

3. What is strain theory?

Strain theory posits that individuals who face obstacles to achieving socially accepted goals may turn to criminal behavior as a means of achieving them. 4.

How does the criminal justice system enforce social control? The criminal justice system enforces social control through mechanisms such as police, courts, and prisons that respond to and punish criminal behavior.

5. Why is it important to examine different theoretical perspectives when studying crime?

Examining different theoretical perspectives provides a more comprehensive understanding of crime and its place in society, and highlights the importance of context, power dynamics, and diversity in shaping criminal behavior.

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