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Durkheim & the Normalization of Deviance -- Research Starters Sociology

By: Vejar, Cynthia;

2009 / EBSCO


This article revolves around Émile Durkheim's (1858-1917) controversial proposal that society necessitates the presence of crime, as criminal activity is both normal and functional, and as Durkheim implies, subjective. Even though different communities possess varying degrees of criminal intensity, acts that are the highest form of malignancy in any particular region (e.g., the vandal in New Hampshire; the gang-banger in Los Angeles) will correspondingly warrant an upper-echelon "criminal" label. Society's reliance upon the existence of crime is confirmed by the fact that it will search for such transgressions, even in the absence of delinquent activity. Likewise, benefits that are acquired by admirable and radical acts of crime, such as those practiced by the revolutionary, help thrust society into that which is ever-evolving. A brief discussion is presented surrounding the pervasive components of crime, which survive the test of time, and exist regardless of regional differences or various forms of punitive retribution. Furthermore, the fact that society isolates unacceptable behavior as a means to shape its values is broached. Anomie, or the absence of structure, rules, and societal organization, and its correlation with crime is introduced, followed by relevant research that intersects Durkheimian theory with deviance. This research includes a detailed account by Liska & Warner (1991), who offer a comparison of different theoretical models on crime, Roshier's (1977) critique of Durkheim's ambiguous inability to properly operationalize pertinent concepts, and Maris' (1971) intriguing Durkheimian twist regarding the view that destructive behavior conducted by females can be viewed in productive terms.