Consensus Theories of Crime: An Introduction

Introduction: Consensus Theory the Basics!

According to consensus theories, for the most part society works because most people are successfully socialised into shared values through the family and education. Socialisation produces agreement or consensus between people about appropriate behaviour and beliefs without which no human could survive. According to consensus theorists this process starts from a young age in the family and education. These institutions enforce what are known as positive and negative sanctions, or rewarding good behaviour and punishing bad behaviour. Both of these institutions perform the function of social control, and this is a good thing for both the individual and society.

Complete the table below using your own examples.

Institution

Positive Sanctions (rewards)

Negative sanctions (punishments)

Examples of Norms and Values enforced

Family

Education

Consensus Theories argue that a ‘healthy society’ is one characterised by a high degree of value consensus – or general agreement around shared values. They see stable institutions such as the nuclear family and education as crucial for socialisation children into these shared norms and values. True, individual freedom is reduced in such a situation, but this is seen as a good thing for society in general, and also for the individual.

From this perspective, crime is generally seen as dysfunctional (bad for society): Crime is a result of a family, or a part of society failing in its duty to effectively socialise the young and individuals or groups becoming detached from society in some way.

There are several different theories within Consensus Theory you need to know about, but the main ones are Functionalism, Bonds of Attachment/ Social Control Theory, Strain Theory, Subcultural Theory, and Underclass Theory. 

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