Durkheim: Crime is Normal

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.

Durkheim believes that crime is a normal part of society and it is necessary because it is omnipresent across time and space. All societies have and do experience crime. Thus having crime as such a common action, one may say it is normal to have. What is seen as a crime in some societies may differ from others. What constitutes a crime is something culturally relative rather than universal. It strives from what is found to be moral or not. A crime is a crime because it offends our moral views. “Public reactions to crime can bring a community closer together and subsequently reinforce social norms and increase social consensus.” (Pavlich, 2011, p.72) Simply put, society draws upon the moral advantages offered by crime. If crime does not occur then it is impossible for a society to define its own moral boundaries. With out this there would not be social consensus, which is needed to hold a society together.

Durkheim also notes that, “ crime may or may not be useful, but it is ‘normal because it is linked to the fundamental conditions of all social life; such is the case because there cannot be a society where individuals do not diverge more or less from the collective type and because, among these divergences, there are no less inevitably some which exhibit a criminal character’ (Durkheim, 1983: 95-6), (Pavalich, 2011, p.79).

I agree with Durkheim when he says that in all societies there  is crime. I find it hard to think of a functioning society with zero criminal activity when people are born into certain lifestyles that involve committing crimes to survive or committing crimes is a way of life. People will sometimes do  what ever it takes to meet the needs of survival, needs or wants. An example is stealing. There are some that steal to gain items of material goods (jewelry) but then there are those who steal to survive (food). Either of them are willing to commit a crime to get what they need or want, which goes against most moralistic values that stealing is wrong. Having this idea makes it easier for us to punish those who do wrong, which hold our social moral values together, making our society strong.

References

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: Crime is Normal

  1. Good overview of Durkheim’s comments in your opening paragraph.

    You note that “I find it hard to think of a functioning society with zero criminal activity when people are born into certain lifestyles that involve committing crimes to survive or committing crimes is a way of life.”

    Fair enough. But consider the historical specificity of the concept of ‘crime’. Crime, as we know it – an act that violates codified laws administered by a bureaucratic state and subject to formal sanction – is linked to the modern and late modern socio-historical contexts. Although stealing, to use your example, is to an extent a universal phenomenon, the *crime* of stealing is tied to particular contemporary notions of private property and exchange value. Consider the way that our statutes define theft according to the exchange value of the property in question. This would have made no sense in pre-capitalist societies.

    With regards to stealing, what do you make of the different normative implications of theft of jewelry vs. theft of intellectual property (through downloading, streaming, and bootlegging)?