Crime: Normal

Food for Thought Topic: 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.

In this week’s reading of Law and Society Redefined, Emile Durkheim suggests that crime is a normal part of society, and that it is necessary and indispensable. From my interpretation of this, he means that crime exists essentially everywhere in society, and by everywhere I mean it surrounds us on a daily basis. And it truly does, because crime occurs in many different contexts, whether it be petty, street level, or white collar/corporate crime.

I agree with Durkheim’s proposal that crime is a part of society, like I have mentioned above it is omnipresent. We do not live in a utopian society, for that reason I agree with Durkheim that crime is normal. In lower level courses we have learned that Durkheim did numerous studies where he tried to find a society in which crime did not exist, but failed to find such a community, leaving him to conclude that crime is a part of life. Durkheim later went to state that “a certain quantity of deviance indicated a healthy society” (Smith, 2008, p. 338). Moreover, in the book Suicide, Durkheim writes:

“We must therefore call crime necessary and declare that it cannot be nonexistent, that the fundamental conditions of social organisation, as they are understood logically imply it. Consequently it is normal” (Durkheim, 1966, p. 362).

Society accepts crime to be of normalcy on a general consensus, though crime is thought be deviant and unacceptable, this contradictory statement means that despite that fact that crime happens regularly, people do not approve of the heinous acts associated with it. We learn in Pavlich’s text that society is “independent of the individuals it moulds and shapes” (2011, p. 74). Although a society is comprised of individuals, it in turn does influence our thinking. In society we are embedded in social norms and beliefs that are responsible in swaying our thoughts. Durkheim views that crime and deviance brings a community together, suggesting that society is a collective. He says,

“Crime, therefore, draws honest consciences together, concentrating them. We have only to observe what happens, particularly in a small town, when some scandal involving morality has just taken place. People stop each other in the street, call upon one another, meet in their customary places to talk about what has happened” (Durkheim, 1964, p. 58).

I deem that society heavily influences how we think and view certain things, such as crime.

A local example of crime surrounding us is gang related crimes; living in Surrey, I have come to view gang violence to be normal because shootings happen so frequently. It is not something new, when we switch the tv on to the local 6 o’clock news, the headlines usually run as the following ‘Police Investigate Surrey Shooting” or ‘Shooting Victim Previously Known to Police; Associated to Gangs’ (CTV News, 2012). http://bc.ctvnews.ca/police-investigate-shooting-in-surrey-b-c-1.993175 However, on a personal level, I strongly oppose of gang violence, I view it to be extremely wrong; but like most people in Surrey (I have asked opinions of many people; their identities are to remain confidential), I too have come to accept it as a part of life because you cannot run away from crime. It is no question that everyone would prefer to live in a utopian society where everything is perfect; however, it is quite difficult to imagine that such a community can exist because crime in reality is inevitable, leaving me to say that Durkheim is correct.

References:
CTV News. Police investigate shooting in Surrey, B.C. Retrieved from: http://bc.ctvnews.ca/police-investigate-shooting-in-surrey-b-c-1.993175
Durkheim, E. (1964). The division of labor in society. New York: Free Press. (Original work published
1893)
Durkheim, E. (1966). Suicide. New York: Free Press. (Original work published 1897)
Pavlich, G. (2011). Law & Society Redefined. Toronto: Oxford University Press.
Smith, P. (2008). “Durkheim and Criminology: Reconstructing the Legacy”. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 41(3), 333-344. Doi: 10.1375/acri.41.3.333

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Crime: Normal

  1. You note that “We do not live in a utopian society, for that reason I agree with Durkheim that crime is normal.”

    For Durkheim, would a utopian society be crime-free? What do you think?

    This statement: “Society accepts crime to be of normalcy on a general consensus, though crime is thought be deviant and unacceptable, this contradictory statement means that despite that fact that crime happens regularly, people do not approve of the heinous acts associated with it.”

    Is an excellent encapsulation of Durkheim’s position. Good work.

    Regarding the example of gang crime in Surrey (certainly a recurring and persistent phenomenon), what function does this sort of crime – and our response to it – serve? In what way is it necessary? Does responding to gang crime create opportunities for norm reaffirmation and clarification?

  2. sgahunia

    Dear Believeinblue1,

    You express some great points from the text in regards to Durkheim’s view of crime being an essential element for a healthy society as it is viewed to be normal. I definitely agree with you and think you were able to grasp on to some great points. With that being said, I think your contemporary example of gang violence is something that can be further elaborated on and discussed. You state that you, and other people you have asked have “come to accept [gang violence] as a part of life” and “view gang violence to be normal because shootings happen so frequently” in the area you reside. I would only suppose that much of this is covered in the media and, of course, it influences the way society thinks towards the phenomenon. I don’t believe that gang violence is something that can be considered “normal” in itself because it still offends society’s collective conscience, but I think the concept of gang violence in regards to its existence is something that can be looked at as being normal. Durkheim states that crime is considered to be a normal part of society because it is both “universal and necessary” and because it exists in all types of societies (Palvich, 2011, p. 79-80). In conjunction to gang violence, yes- one can agree that it is something that is apparent more or less in all societies however, no society would collectively agree that it is normal because we are molded and shapped by societey to think it’s not– the only normal part of it all is the fact that it exists universally in some form or another. You may feel this way because you are now desensitized to it as it occurs so often. However, I think its place in society as a crime– again, is what makes it so normal.

    Pavlich, G. (2011). Law & Society Redefined. Toronto: Oxford University Press.