Durkheim Socializes the Law

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 idea put forth by Durkheim which states that crime is a normal part of society, and that it is necessary and indispensable is based upon his thought that no matter in which society one looks, there will always be crime. Crime is an inevitable aspect of society, and will always be present as not everyone conforms to social norms and the laws put forth by the government. There will always be those who oppose the law. Durkheim states that ‘philosophy of law cannot be separated from it sociology’ (Pavlich, 2011, p.79). In essence, he is trying to say that one should go back and look at which sociological factors played a part in the creation of these laws, as there must have been some acts in society that were not mutually agreed upon by the majority, hence the creation of law to maintain order in society, as per the creators of law and upholders of social norms.

The idea that crime is a necessary and indispensable act is quite interesting. Durkheim argues that crime brings a sense of normalcy to any society, and that society itself is impossible to be free of crime. Without crime, one would not know what normal is, because with crime, there is a clear outline of what is normal, which is seen to be law abiding, and what is not normal, which is crime. I agree with Durkheim in that where there is a society, there will be crime. It is hard to think about the perfect society where no one breaks the law and engages in criminal activity. This leaves no room for creative thought and opposition for unjust laws. If all of society conforms to a set of laws that may or may not be just, this will lead to perfect society, in which every single individual is law abiding. Although this thought is nice, it is just not realistic.

When thinking of a contemporary example where many people break the law would be smoking marijuana. Lots of people do it, and there are studies done to prove the health effects of it are less severe than that of cigarettes and alcohol, but still it’s not legal. I would think Durkheim would argue that if the greater society deem it be socially acceptable, that the crime should be de-criminalized as society are the creators of law, thus legalization of marijuana should be allowed.

Pavlich, G. (2011). Law & Society Redefined. Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Durkheim Socializes the Law

  1. Drawing on Durkheim, you note that “Crime is an inevitable aspect of society, and will always be present as not everyone conforms to social norms and the laws put forth by the government.”

    Do you think that Durkheim is correct when he says that crime is an inevitable part of society? Social norms and rules certainly are, and so are formalized or ritualized ways of responding to transgressions of those rules – but criminalization is a very particular phenomenon. As critical criminologist Louk Hulsman (1986) notes, “crime has no ontological reality. Crime is not the object but the product of criminal policy. Criminalisation is one of the many ways to construct social reality” (p. 71).

    So, while there will indeed always be those who oppose the law – and those who transgress norms that have not been legalized – this does not mean that these oppositions and transgressions will always be responded to through the framework of criminalization.

    The issue of drug prohibition – particularly marijuana prohibition – would be a great term paper topic, and Durkheim’s sociology would be an interesting theoretical approach to use. Let me know if you would like to work on this topic.