Evaluate the View that Crime and Deviance are Inevitable and Beneficial for Individuals and Society as a Whole

This question was the 30 mark essay question on the June 2022 Crime and Deviance A-Level Sociology exam paper.

I have to say TOP MARKS for a fantastic question, lots in here to unpack.

The question came with an item that candidates had to apply which explicitly referenced Functionalists thinking crime was inevitable because not everyone could fit into the norms and values of society, and also that crime was beneficial.

The item also referenced that Conflict Theorists were critical of this view because crime is ‘constructed’ in such as way that it benefits certain individuals.

Quick Question decode….

The question breaks down into two chunks of two…

  1. Evaluate the view that crime is inevitable (and evaluate the theory behind this)
  2. Evaluate the view that crime is beneficial – i. for society and ii. for individuals.

The easiest way to structure this is probably to start off discussing and evaluating the Functionalist view – on inevitability and then whether it’s beneficial and use mainly conflict (Marxist/ Feminist/ Interactionist) views to evaluate Functionalism.

This question also screams out ‘talk about different types of crime and contrast them’.

And I’d also spend some time talking about PostModernism/ Cultural Theories of Crime – but again using these to critique Functionalism and Conflict Theories too.

I’d recommend NOT just doing a paragraph list answer – DONT’ start with Functionalism then do Marxism then do Feminism – that will probably limit you to a mid mark band, C grade – for Bs and As I’m thinking the examiners are going to want an answer that really focuses on using material to critique Functionalism!

However, having said that – it’s kind of hard to avoid discussing Durkheim’s theory – all of it first – it’s how you critique the different aspects of it that will help you avoid a ‘listing the theories’ answer’.

Below is a rough guide to how I’d answer this question….

Evaluate the view that Crime is Inevitable and beneficial for Society and Individuals…

Here you can outline Durkheim’s theory of the ‘Society of Saints’ – in which he theorised that even in a near perfect society very small acts would become deviant and end up being criminalised because ‘society needs crime’, and in fact that crime is beneficial.

Durkheim in fact argued that crime performed three positive functions – social regulation (people are reminded of the boundaries when criminals are punished), social integration – people bond together more closely against criminals and then it also allows social change to take place (without deviance there can be no change!).

Durkheim’s idea that crime is ‘inevitable’ seems to make sense as it is difficult to conceive of a society in which there is no crime, let alone no deviance. It also allows for the fact that some individuals are always going to break the rules, and so are not entirely controlled by society.

However this is quite a week theory – it doesn’t say very much – Durkheim didn’t really talk about what kind of acts he was talking about – if bad manners are ‘always going to be inevitable’ then Functionalism as a theory kind of holds together, but if more serious crimes are inevitable in ALL societies – such as murders, treason, revolutions, that undermines the whole of Functionalist consensus theory because if all societies eventually end in conflict, then consensus is only ever a temporary state and societies don’t evolve in the way Durkheim thought.

It’s a very difficult theory to assess this – in terms of minor acts of deviance YES they are always going to be around it seems, but in a way who cares because these don’t harm people or upset the balance of society, but in terms of the more serious crimes – mass organised crimes, terrorism aimed at social change – mass shootings in America by lone individuals – are these the inevitable?

It is impossible to measure at a global and 100 year historical level with any degree of accuracy but as a general rule there do seem to be LESS violent, serious and destabilising crimes in wealthier European Countries, suggesting where we have wealth and inclusion and democracy and human rights, more serious crimes that are going to blow society apart are less likely, but in poorer countries, in Africa for example, which has the highest amount of civil wars for the last half a century, violent crime seems more likely.

But then the most violent States on Earth are the very richest – the USA, Russia, China, all commit human rights abuses but generally against people in remote territories and against people deemed to be ‘enemies of the state’ – so maybe crime is inevitable when we have huge power differentials in the world….?

This brings to mind Marxism – this essentially argues that ‘crime’ in the form of revolution is inevitable as oppression causes increasing exploitation which eventually leads to violent revolution (which by definition are criminal against the existing State) – however this doesn’t really seem to fit the historical record any better than Functionalism, real communist revolutions are far and few between, much more war is about desperation or colonial conquest.

Marxists also argue that things like low level street crime are the outcome of poverty and oppression caused by the inequalities and injustices of Capitalism – this seems to make more sense as a theory of the inevitability of crime than Durkheim’s as there is a correlation between these types of crime and poverty.

In contrast Durkhiems’ theory can’t be tested because he was never specific enough, thus it’s probably better to dismiss the idea as it can’t be proven.

There are also problems with Durkheim’s theory of crime being beneficial is that it comes from the logic ‘that if something in society exists then it must have a function’ – Durkheim was kind of tunnel visioned here and he couldn’t accept the view that some things were just plain dysfunctional and had no social benefit at all.

It is difficult to argue, for example, that domestic abuse has a useful social function – as it is hidden and never seen, and obviously one can’t argue it benefits the victims.

In order for a crime to be deemed beneficial – to perform one of Durkheim’s social functions it needs to be visible….. In this case one might be able to argue that domestic abuse does enhance social integration as people may come together to kick out local abusers from their neighbourhoods – HOWEVER – it’s not a very positive basis for ‘unity’ and not that healthy where people are just united against something else – also there’s no real need for this type of integration is there? I mean doesn’t sport and music and many other things do the same without the crime and harm?

Also with social regulation – maybe crimes being punished remind people of the boundaries – but Marxists have pointed out that some crimes are much more likely to get punished than others – such as working class drug dealers bet punished, not the middle class users who take them.

And thus the Marxist take on crime benefiting some individuals more than others maybe fits better with social reality – we have selective law enforcement and punishment – the working classes are kept in their place while elites are more likely to get away with doing corporate and white collar crime without being noticed.

And when we look at some white collar crimes it’s hard to argue they benefit society – such as the fraud that led to the collapse of Enron – which led to massive losses for ordinary investors and job losses for workers – very few people in fact benefitted from that other than a small amount of criminals who skimmed profit before the crash.

The item references crime being constructed in such a way that it benefits certain individuals more than others – this is an interactionist point of view – it means that what is criminal is determined by the law which in turn is determined by people.

We can see this most clearly in the way certain drugs are made criminal – for example with cannabis gradually being decriminalised in some states in America – when it used to be criminal law officers could prosecute people for growing and selling it, now in those states were it is decriminalised people can’t be prosecuted – this shows up the varying nature of how some States deem this act to be harmful, others beneficial.

But what’s maybe more important is how some kind of violent acts are not labelled as criminal – for example state violence in war, presumably because whichever territory is being ‘liberated’ is going to benefit from that particular wave of state violence, while ANY violence by ordinary people on the streets is deemed to be NOT beneficial in any way.

In Conclusion

Personally I’d dismiss the idea that crime is inevitable as it’s too broad a statement to be meaningful.

As to the Functionalist idea that crime is beneficial for society – this is too generalised to be true, but it certainly seems to be the case that crime does indeed benefit some people more than others – maybe for that reason it is inevitable, after all, but it’s impossible to say with any certainty WHAT types of criminal and deviant act are inevitable.

Good question, cheers!

Final Thoughts

This isn’t a definitive answer, I just thought I’d have some fun with it!

Sources

The Functionalist view of Crime

The Marxist View of crime

The Labelling Theory of Crime

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