Durkheim and Society!

Durkheim believed that crime is was and forever will be a part of society and that it is not only a necessary element of society, but that it’s also an irreplaceable element of society. Durkheim believed that “Since law reproduces the principal forms of social solidarity, we have only to classify the different types of law to find therefrom the different types of social solidarity which correspond to it (Division, p. 68)”, and that crime is a fundamental condition of all social life and that it serves a function to not only control society but also it serves a social function, and this was because “it performs important collective functions (e.g., reinforcing social norms, increasing consensus)” (Pavlich 73). This mindset suggests that society itself has the power and potential to explain criminal acts, the reactions of the community and crime itself in a given context, (73).

Durkheim felt that society could be studied using methods completely outside of the individuals that were the building blocks of it, and that “society has a life of its own quite independent of the members, or groups, that it shapes” (74). Basically, he feels like society is the true entity and that the individuals, us, are mere pawns within it and that we are all dispensable, not to mention that society could and would survive without us. He goes on to think that society forms people, how they act and what they believe, and that in a way social bond theory is suggested as an explanation for not only how we all act, but to further his claim that nobody really thinks for themselves; without our social groups and peers we wouldn’t think the way we do, we could have a totally different mind-set altogether. Our “conscious self” could be completely altered simply be changing who we associate with. I agree with that because it’s easy to tell that people act differently around certain people, whether it is colleagues, family, or even just certain friend groups, the general public will act differently depending on who they are with.

This is what he is getting at with crime being a normal, everyday part of society today, in that if a person is socializing with a group of friends or peers and they are engaging in criminal or even just deviant behaviour, chances are that one person will join in, regardless of whether it’s by directly participating or simply being an aider or abetter is irrelevant, the point is they will more than probably join in. it also depends on one’s definition of what is a crime, because I agree with Durkheim, crime is everywhere, and it always has been; probably always will be. It’s still a crime to still food to feed the hungry, or to steal water for the thirsty. Jay-walking (alright it’s deviant not exactly criminal) but even today, texting while driving, drinking and driving, talking on the phone while driving, all of these are crimes and yet you can’t go one day without seeing somebody doing one if not a combination of all three.

When it comes to contemporary examples apart from the above, the only one that can really be argued from across history is the usage of marijuana. According to Marcus Felson, American soldiers in the 19thcentury would use marijuana while in the battlefield as if it was a simple cigarette. In fact, he goes on to say that the presence of marijuana didn’t even enter the public domain as being a problem until the 20th century, and even then it can’t be agreed upon when it comes to the punishment and its severity. Felson actually says on Page 30 that indeed, consuming a small amount of marijuana is a felony in one place and a misdemeanor in a second place. Actually, some jurisdictions enforce marijuana laws strictly and others mildly or sometimes rarely. It’s one of those things that’ll always be in the news because someone will want to legalize or at the very least de-criminalize it, which shouldn’t be a problem, as it’s been documented that if the government of Canada (for example), was to legalize and regulate/control the sale and amounts being sold when it comes to marijuana, it could be a multi-billion dollar a year industry, which in the opinions of many people I’ve discussed this specific topic with, would basically negate the need or desire to start tolling every bridge as well as possibly roads as well. But that in of itself is another can of worms that won’t be opened here. Durkheim I believe would facilitate the usage and legalization of marijuana because it could prove to be a key aspect and component of what he was most concerned with, that being social solidarity. When rallies are shown to T.V. about people arguing for the government to allow marijuana, it’s never just one or two people, but hundreds if not thousands of people showing their support. This highlights those “complex interrelationships, structures and institutions which ensures not only its continuity and cohesion, but also its transformations” (Pavlich 73) that are discussed.

In all, I think that Durkheim hit the nail on the head in saying that crime is in a way, a pivotal aspect of society and will always be present. Although laws are created in an attempt to discourage criminal activity, it’s all due to social regard and mood. Without society crime wouldn’t exist, but I think to a certain extent, without crime society couldn’t exist because it’s one of the few ways to maintain and create balance between what’s real, and what’s being imagined. Crime shows the government and the community the holes that come up in the foundation that keeps us all safe, and society in its own way supports the laws that are created to stifle the crimes being committed. They are one, crime and society, one cannot live without the other, and vise versa.

Pavlich, George C. “5 – Durkheim Socializes the Law.” Law & Society Redefined. Don Mills, Ont.: Oxford UP, 2011. N. pag. Print.

Felson, Marcus. Crime and Nature. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2006. Print.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Durkheim and Society!

  1. Good overview of the key features of Durkheim’s argument.

    You propose that: “This is what he is getting at with crime being a normal, everyday part of society today, in that if a person is socializing with a group of friends or peers and they are engaging in criminal or even just deviant behaviour, chances are that one person will join in, regardless of whether it’s by directly participating or simply being an aider or abetter is irrelevant, the point is they will more than probably join in. ”

    Criminologists who built on Durkheim’s work by studying social strain, anomie, and rule-breaking have emphasized the important role of peer groups in fostering and encouraging deviance. But I don’t think the relationship is as straightforward as you are suggesting. Durkheim, in suggesting that crime is normal, is noting that it is ubiquitous and that it performs a social function. Our reactions to crime serve as opportunities for the clarification of social norms. In the scenario you present, the criminal actions of one person in a group (and subsequent consequences) might serve the function of reinforcing the importance of the violated norm for the others (and for society).

    Your observations regarding the ubiquity of crime are effective.

    Your case study of marijuana laws is interesting and compelling. This is definitely a source of tension.

    Could you clarify what you mean by “I think to a certain extent, without crime society couldn’t exist because it’s one of the few ways to maintain and create balance between what’s real, and what’s being imagined”? This is an intriguing statement.

    • What I meant was, when the government looks at creating laws, it’s usually after some sort of outcry, whether by policy makers or by the public, about things that are heavily affecting society or the community (if it’s simply a municipal by-law for example) and that if the problem didn’t exist, the law wouldn’t be created. Thus, when laws are created, it’s in response to something that’s really happening out there, and not just something that the government thought up because they were bored and had nothing better to do. As I state just before that, without society crime wouldn’t exist, meaning that if there was no society, i.e. there’s no people to commit crime, laws wouldn’t even be remotely necessary, but society as it stands wouldn’t be able to function without crime in my opinion because crime is one way of showing really how well a community is built, or how well a governing body is fairing at really targeting public issues, or in other words, it shows how well the ruling body is at dealing with what’s REALLY going on out there, what the REAL problems are, instead of dealing with things that aren’t important, aren’t required, or just have nothing to do with the current situation of the outside world. Crime, in that sense, has helped shape society because where we’ve gotten to today could be considered to be leaps and bounds ahead of where it we were even twenty years ago, simply by means of policies and regulations, say for drinking and driving, or even regulations for crossing the border. Crimes have made governing bodies and the public aware of the big issues that are going on in the community that have led to laws being created to try and fix the problem. No law is guaranteed to fix an issue, but it’s usually a step in the right direction and one that without the law being created never would have been taken more than likely. But on that same note of crime helping mold society, I believe society has also helped mold crime, in that with all these precautions people take nowadays to stay safe, say home alarm systems for example, all that does is just help breed a new type of criminal. Criminals are just like the internet, they change evolve and grow every-day and if society doesn’t manage to keep up then soon (albeit a large extreme here) there could be anarchy in the streets. It’s like antivirus for a computer, the reason they have to keep updating (my own seems to download new updates multiple times a day) because there’s always new breeds of virus’ out there that could cause serious harm to your computer, and I think crime and society are very similar in the regard. Crime keeps evolving and so society balances the equation by keeping people informed of higher crime rates, whenever a crime spree is in motion, or even when a serious of events that are all very similar in nature have been noticed by police and so just to warn the public to keep aware. Not to sound like a broken record, but basically society I feel needs crime and criminal activity to keep evolving, and crime needs (however sad this may be) society so that IT can survive and continue to evolve. There will always be crime, but society as a whole is the only thing we the people have to keep it from spilling over and becoming uncontrollable…or maybe just keeping it from getting worse than it already is.