Durkheim and Merton

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Emile Durkheim is considered to be one of the main founders of modern sociology and, although Marx may be more widely known throughout the world as having an incredible influence on sociology and society in general, Marx did not have such a significant influence and say in the world of crime when compared to Durkheim.

For Durkheim, crime is constantly changing, and that there is such thing as a normal amount of crime in any society and instead of this being a burden on these societies, it actually has various important functions. He also believed that the idea of crime would best be understood as violations of moral code, he referred to this as the ‘conscience collective’ of a society. Therefore crime reflects certain social conventions in different societies. Behind the idea of the ‘conscience collective’ is that due to crime being a violation of our moral code according to society punishment must be required. Garland explains this as: “the criminal act violates sentiments and emotions which are deeply ingrained in most members os society...this violation calls forth strong psychological reactions...It provokes a sense of outrage, anger, indignation and a passionate desire for vengeance” (1990)

Durkheim’s work on social structure and anomie is said to have provided the foundations of Merton’s work and his own theory, Merton attempted to develop an explanation of the rates of not just criminal but non-conventional behaviour that violated the norms of American society. For Durkheim, the functions that crime provokes in society include both adaptive and boundary maintenance. Crime ensures change, making a society adaptive as crime introduces various new ideas and practices within societies preventing it from becoming immobi...

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...n Merton’s version of the anomie theory, which although has been explained as “the single most influential formulation in the sociology of deviance” (Clinard, 1964) and said that due to Merton, the anomie theory has actually advanced way beyond Durkheims work and ideas, Merton’s work has seen insistent criticism and seems to have almost ‘gone off the radar’ for many people within this field.

Merton’s anomie theory has had huge influence, although since post 1960’s it has recieved a huge amount of criticism, many shortcomings just like with Durkheim’s theory have been identified, such as Cohen’s criticism that Merton fails to explain juvenile delinquency and both why this occurs and the nature of it. Many argue that Merton actually shifted the definition of anomie from Durkheim’s pervious version and that the two theories realistically have very little in common.
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