Crime: a Permanent Institution in an Evolving Society

Food for Thought: 

Durkheim’s sociology of law proposes that crime is a normal part of society, and that it is necessary and indispensable. What does this mean? Is Durkheim correct? Discuss, with reference to contemporary examples.

The concept of law and society can be discussed both as separate entities as well as intertwining phenomenon. Over the years many scholars have put forward debates regarding whether law influence society, or if society is influenced by law. Chapter five of the book Law and Society covers the issues concerning this ever-present topic. The previous chapters of this book looked at how law is a product of society and the norms and values associated with the period in question. Furthermore in this chapter Durkheim brings forward the notion that crime is a normal part of society, and that a society cannot exist without crime. This means that no matter how many laws and regulations are passed crime will always be a conspicuous part of society.

After reading and reflecting upon this chapter I have come to agree with Durkheim and his proposition that crime will always be a part of society. This is simply due to the fact that a vast majority of the laws present in today’s society are regulatory offences, which often have no moral basis. For example many laws we encounter in every day life include traffic laws and controlled substance laws. However with that being said since these laws do not reflect any moral premise, there is no unanimous social consensus. For examples while driving down most highways in the lower mainland, one will find that the speed limit is usually 100km/h, however many people have expressed the dissatisfaction with this speed limit, and people who do not follow this regulatory law many be subjected to criminal sanctions such as fines and in some serious cases losing their vehicle.

So what does this regulatory law mean? Does it mean that the people who do not follow the law are criminals or that others are simply conforming to this law? In addition if this law was changed to 120km/h would the people who prefer driving slower be ticketed for not following the new law? Regardless of how this law is manipulated, there will always be a portion of the society that does not agree with it and therefore there will always be crime. Another example pertains simply to peoples differing values and beliefs. For example laws regarding polygamy are accepted by many, however there will always be a group of people who believe otherwise, and no matter how many times this law is changed there will always be a group that conforms and a group that rejects the law. Likewise a law that goes against certain religious and cultural beliefs will never cease to exist due to the fundamental differences between different ideologies.

A recent and very interesting movement is the Anonymous movement, which has been criticized by the government as being detrimental to society, and their action have been widely condemned. However as time goes on and more people begin to support the movement there is a great chance that their activities may not be seen in a negative way and therefore be accepted by society. This may mean that people will no longer be deem their acts as being criminal. I believe that the notion of a crimeless society is very farfetched and unrealistic. The law is always subject to individual perceptions and those how agree will oblige and those who disagree will not, and as society changes this process of crime and criminality will continue to evolve.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Crime: a Permanent Institution in an Evolving Society

  1. While I agree that controlled substance laws do not reflect a strong moral consensus (quite the opposite in many cases), I cannot agree with the suggestion that they “do not reflect any moral premise”. On the contrary, the laws surrounding the prohibition of certain substances are highly moralized – so much so that their proponents advance moral justifications for prohibition despite the demonstrable failure of these laws to reduce rates of cultivation and use. Consider the moral overtones of the recent debates surrounding the operation of Vancouver’s Insite supervised injection facility.

    Your observation that regulatory law appears to be eclipsing criminal law is important. We will return to this topic later in the course, when we discuss Ericson’s idea of counter-law.

    If I can read between the lines of your post, it looks like you are questioning the accuracy of Durkehim’s sociology of law based on the pervasiveness and persistence of social conflict – as opposed to consensus. Would this be a correct interpretation?

    Interesting post!