Durkheim: The Normality of Crime

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

It is hard to imagine a world crime free and even harder to imagine a world that accepts crime as a normal part of society. Durkheim regarded law as a social fact that concretely embodies a society’s morals and norms – a visible symbol of social solidarity (Pavlich, 2011). Thus, Durkheim approached crime through discussions of mechanical solidarity (Pavlich, 2011). This theory was the foundation in which Durkheim based all his findings in societies. In addition, when behaviors deemed unacceptable have increased, so does the amount of society (Hamlin, 2009). Thus, if society operates at a normal level then the rate of deviance should minimally change. However, if deviance rates drop or increase, this suggests that there is a sickness in the organism (Hamlin, 2009). He also suggests crime will never disappear; in fact, it changes its form (Hamlin, 2009). I think of a society of all morally good people. This society would be crime free made up of perfect individuals. However, each person may have expectations of what good would be. Thus, society would collectively come up with laws to which abide. This would lead to punishment if laws were broken leading to a society with crime. Durkheim, then suggests that crime is necessary because it is part of the fundamental conditions of social life (Pavlich, 2011). He says that crime is useful because these conditions themselves are indispensable to the normal evolution of morality and law (Pavlich, 2011). This mean crime plays a huge role in evolution. Criminals are no longer looked at as a defective, parasitic element of society or the outlaw. These criminals play a huge role in social life (Durkheim, 1893). He argues that crime is not pathological at all and therefore punishment cannot cure it. In his book The Division of Labor in Society (1893) Durkheim purposes that primal societies face less crime because most people are at equal value. He adds that without political and economic hierarchy, most people maintain social order (Durkheim, 1893). In his book Durkheim discusses the term Anomie which means social disorder. He says that in a society where it is unknown what expected behavior is, criminal activity results due to lack of knowledge or expectations in these societies crime and behavior are increased (Durkheim, 1893). Finally, crime will always exist because people are always born into crime. There will always be a hierarchy of status in life. Looking at socioeconomic status plays a huge role in how people will grow up. An example is seen in auto theft. There will always be people wanting things in life. Sutherland’s Differential Association Theory states that if individuals don’t have the means to get to these goals they will do illegitimate things to get it; an example would be stealing. Some people break into cars and as Durkheim suggests that crime does not disappear it simply changes form. So, criminals learn newer and better ways to commit crime.


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

Hamlin, J. (2009) The Normality of Crime. Durkheim and Erikson, Department of Sociology and Anthropology.UMD

Durkheim, Emile.. 1893 [1984]. The Division of Labor in Society.Translated by W. D. Halls. New York: Free Press.



1 Comment

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One response to “Durkheim: The Normality of Crime

  1. You begin by noting that “It is hard to imagine a world crime free and even harder to imagine a world that accepts crime as a normal part of society.”

    This is an interesting statement! I wonder if this scenario is as far-fetched as it first seems, though. If by ‘crime’ you mean ‘serious transgressions of social rules and norms’ (which we used to call deviance), I agree – violations of social norms are inevitable. But if by ‘crime’ you mean rule-breaking that is interpreted as transgressions against the state and subject to sanction within a structured legal-bureaucratic framework, it is important to note that this phenomenon is by no means natural – it is a product of the social organization of modern and late modern societies. Perhaps the current framework will be replaced by an alternative approach to governing social problems. There is some evidence that this may already be happening, given the rise of ‘security’ (as opposed to ‘justice’) as an organizing framework.

    In relation to your skepticism about the possibility of crime being regarded as normal, I wonder – don’t we already view it as such? I look forward to discussing this.

    It is no accident that you find connections between differential association theory and Durkheim. The early strain theorists were strongly influenced by his work.