Durkheim is Right: Crime is Inevitable

Durkheim’s claim that “crime is a normal part of society, and that it is necessary and indispensable” means that crime acts as a type of moral check and balance in society. Crime exists as a by-product of societies striving to create a moral order and organized structure that is free of chaos and confusion. In most cases where people break the law, they are choosing to defect from the larger collective morals of society. In cases where laws may not always be just and in the best interest of the people they command, there will always be individuals that exist who will break those laws in an attempt to adjust the moral order to benefit the collective consciousness. As Durkheim states,

“…we should not say that an act offends the common consciousness because it is criminal, but that it is criminal because it offends that consciousness. We do not condemn it because it is a crime, but it is a crime because we condemn it” (Pavlich 2011, p. 79).

This statement explains that the inherent morals of society serve as the true definition of justice. Crime will always exist because not everyone’s morals are in sync with the majority of society’s or because society’s laws are not in sync with the collective morals of the people.

I believe Durkheim to be correct in his analysis of the sociology of law. Crime is always going to exist all over the world for various reasons, no matter how hard one attempts to eradicate it. When something is deemed outlawed, many times there will exist individuals who will discover new opportunities to profit from breaking the law. Additionally, depending on the crime, those individuals may even have limited to no competition when conducting these lucrative illegal business ventures. Examples of this can include cases of human smuggling, where a facilitator contravenes Immigration laws by smuggling people into a country as a way to make immense amounts of money quickly for themselves. A case that I had firsthand experience with was the Mikael Prone file, in which Prone smuggled two individuals into Canada by means of utilizing fraudulent passports, which he later then attempted to hide. The official CBSA News Release can be found at this link: http://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/media/prosecutions-poursuites/pac/2012-07-06-eng.html

In other cases such as laws that were found to be just at one time but are now considered absurd, society has voiced its collective consciousness to the ruling government body when the time came to change the law. An example of this is when, at one point, it was considered completely legal for a man to sexually assault his wife. As the times changed, women eventually gained stronger voices and were able to successfully have a law enacted that would make this act illegal. Changing moral values enabled this transition to take place and redefined what was considered “normal.” As mentioned in the textbook, Durkheim believed that “without crime…there can be no sense of what is normal and what is not” (Pavlich 2011, 80).


Government of Canada. “Canada Border Services Agency charges lead to sentencing in human smuggling case in Vancouver .” Canada Border Services Agency. July 06, 2012. http://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/media/prosecutions-poursuites/pac/2012-07-06-eng.html (accessed October 21, 2012).

Pavlich, George. “Chapter 5.” Law & Society Redefined. Don Mills: Oxford UP, 2011. 72-86. Print.


1 Comment

by | October 22, 2012 · 12:44 am

One response to “Durkheim is Right: Crime is Inevitable

  1. You note that “In most cases where people break the law, they are choosing to defect from the larger collective morals of society.”

    This is perhaps how Durkheim and some of his students would describe crime. Alternative hypotheses exist, though. Have you studied the work of Sykes and Matza, on techniques of neutralization? Neutralization theory proposes that when people knowingly and deliberately commit acts that violate laws and / or norms, they employ forms of denial or rationalizations to *momentarily* neutralize the moral bind of law. They do not completely reject social norms. This theory is supported by research into individual and group exercises of denial. The difference between saying that “they are choosing to defect from the larger collective morals of society” and “they are momentarily suspending the moral bind associated with collective social norms” is meaningful.

    Your use of human smuggling as an illustrative example is interesting. I would recommend returning to this case study when we study the work of Giorgio Agamben in a few weeks.

    Good discussion of the abolition of the ‘spousal exemption’ law. I would be interested in seeing an expanded analysis of this issue, drawing on Durkheim’s perspective.