What Causes Deviance, and Why Is It Functional for Society?
Sociologist Emile Durkheim believed that deviance is rooted in societal factors such as,rapid social change and lack of social integration among people. As you will recall, Durkheim attributed the social upheaval he saw at the end of the nineteenth century to the shift from mechanical to organic solidarity, which was brought about by rapid industrialization and urbanization. Although many people continued to follow the dominant morals (norms, values. and laws) as best they could, rapid social change contributed to anomie-a social condition in which people experience a sense of futility because social norms are weak, absent, or conflicting, According to Durkheim, as social integration (bonding and community involvement) decreased, deviance and crime increased However, from his perspective, this was not altogether bad because he believed that deviance has positive social functions in terms of its consequences. For Durkheim (1964a/1895), deviance is a natural and inevitable part of all societies. Likewise, contemporary functionalist theorists suggest that deviance is universal because it serves three important functions:
1. Devilance clarifies rules. By punishing deviant behavior, society reaffirms its commitment to the rules and clarifies their meaning.
2. Deviance unites a group. When deviant behavior is seen as a threat to group solidarity and people unite in opposition to thai behavior. their lcyalties to society are reinforced.
3. Deviance promotes social ,hague. Deviants may violate norms in order to get them changed.
For example, acts of civil disobedience-including lunch counter sit-ins and bus boycotts-were used to protest and eventually correct injustices such as segregated buses and lunch counters in the South. Students periodically stage campus demonstrations to call attention to perceived injustices. such as a tuition increase or the firing of a popular professor. Functionalists acknowledge that deviance may also be dysfunctional for SOciety.If too many people violate the norms, everyday existence may become unpredictable, chaotic, and even violent. If even a few people commit acts that are so violent that they threaten the survival of a society, then deviant acts move into the realm of the criminal and even the unthinkable. Of course. the example that stands out in everyone's mind is terrorist attacks around the world and the fear that remains constantly present as a result. Although there are a wide array of contemporary functionalist theories regarding deviance and crime, many of these theories focus on social structure. For this reason, the first theory we will discuss is referred to as a structural functionalist approach. It describes the relationship between the society's economic structure and the reasons that people might engage in various forms of deviant behavior.