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Deviance and Social Control

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Unit M4: Functionalism

Deviance and Social Control

Unit M4: Functionalism

Deviance and Social Control Functionalism

Chris.Livesey: Page 2


In these Teachers' Notes we're going to review a number of theories of crime and

deviance from a Structural Functionalist perspective.

In case this sociological perspective is not clear to you, the first part of these Notes

is given over to a brief overview of this perspective. If you are familiar with this

perspective, then this overview will serve as revision material...

The second part of these Notes will provide an overview of some of the basic

themes and theories put forward by writers working within this general perspective to

explain crime.

Functionalism: An Overview

The Functionalist perspective is a form of Structuralist sociology and, as such, we

can initially characterise it as a form of macro sociological theorising. In this respect,

the main theoretical question addressed by sociologists working within the

Functionalist perspective is that of:

How do social systems ("societies") hold together?

In their attempts to provide an answer to this question, Functionalists have initially

concentrated upon two ideas that are closely related to the above:

1. How is order maintained in any society?

2. What are the main sources of stability in any society?

As you might imagine - given that the theoretical emphasis seems to be placed on

rather grand questions about the nature of social systems - Functionalist sociologists

are not particularly concerned with an examination of individual ideas, meanings and

interpretations. We will look in more detail about why this should be the case in a


What they do tend to emphasise, however, is the idea that the basis of social order

is to be found in shared values / consensus (hence this perspective sometimes

being referred-to as Consensus Structuralism to distinguish it from the Conflict

Structuralism of writers such as Marx).

When looking at varieties of Functionalist sociology, it is evident that all begin with an

elaboration of two major concepts:

1. Social System:

In basic terms, "society" is seen as an organised structure (or framework) of

inter-related parts (called Institutions).

2. Social Structure:

This refers to the specific framework around which any society is based (in

effect, social structure refers to the specific ways in which various

institutions are related to one another on a functional basis).

Deviance and Social Control Functionalism

Chris.Livesey: Page 3

To develop these ideas, I've noted that the concept of social institution is central to

this perspective and an institution can be loosely defined as:

"A broad pattern of shared, stable, social relationships".

In this sense, an institution involves large-scale, organised, behaviour patterns that

persist over time. Examples in our society include:



Education and


When Functionalists study "society", therefore, they look initially at institutional

arrangements and relationships, since these are seen as the basic building-blocks of

any society. The way in which institutions relate to one another determines the

structure and basic character of any society.

Institutional arrangements are also significant in relation to the concept of culture,

which can be defined as a:

"Broad pattern of values and beliefs that both characterise a particular

way of life and which are transmitted from generation to generation".

The main reason for the significance of the relationship is that people are born into

an existing system of institutional arrangements.

In order to learn how to behave in society, therefore, arrangements have to be made

for people to fit-into existing patterns of behaviour (patterns that are established - and

held relatively stable and constant over time - by institutionalised patterns of

behaviour). This process is socialisation:

Values and beliefs are transmitted to individuals (and internalised - that is,

they become an essential part of an individual's social make-up), through a

variety of socialising agencies (the family, peer group, mass media and so

forth). These agencies may be institutions in their own right (the family for

example) or part of an institutional set-up (the police, for example, are part of




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