The Importance of Crime for the Sake of Social Evolution

“Aside from the fact that crime is important because it keeps me employed… I take a look at how its normality emerges through social evolution…”

Emile Durkheim’s proposal that crime is a normal paradigm within society stems from his key concept of social solidarity; especially, mechanical and organic solidarity (Pavlich, 2011). Embracing social solidarity allowed society to view crime as a violation of the collective morality or norms that have been established and internalized within a society. As a result, law and punishment were the mechanism used to preserve and assure the universal status quo (morality).

He viewed crime from a functionalist perspective. Crime served a purpose in regards to evolving social life and morality. It provides us a moral framework to work with and allows society to push the moral boundaries over time. It gives us the ability to illuminate what normality is and establish acceptable behaviour. As a result, Durkheim saw crime as impossible to get rid of and supported the notion that crime was healthy for society since human evolution would always create new complex problems and contradictions to the social norms (Pavlich, 2011). He knew that social cohesion could weaken when societies were transitioning from primitive to modern (Pavlich, 2011). Social behaviour correlates with the changes in the social structures that are present; thus, transitional societies will develop new values and new norms that may create strain among the collective conscious (Pavlich, 2011). Durkheim described this in his concept of dynamic density and understood that it would loosen social solidarity, which would be a precursor for anomie and deviance (Pavlich, 2011).

We can relate this concept to the current class system around the world. As societies became modern, the division of labour changed significantly as certain individuals exceeded in certain skills and became more individualistic. This resulted in the collective consciousness to weaken as social structures put people in different economic and social positions. Hence, Durkheim proposed that societies with weak social solidarities would allow individuals to have different opinions on whether certain laws are just, which could lead people to justify criminal acts (e.g. white collar crime) (Hamlin, 1999).

I believe Durkheim is correct about crime being normal within society, especially with the correlation of social solidarity and social evolution. Among modern societies, Durkheim described certain problems that affected solidarity. One was anomie, where quick economic development can lead to unprepared social structures (justice system) to produce regulations (Pavlich, 2011). As a result, the collective agreement on what is illegal behaviour may not be set fast enough for people to inherently understand; thus, creating confusion on what the new norms should be (Pavlich, 2011). An example is the white collar crime issue. White collar crime became difficult to punish as there was issues on how to measure the harm done. Courts did not know how to punish the harm done as victims were not physically injured and intention became hard to prove (Hamlin, 1999). This ties in perfectly with Durkheim’s anomie problem. Societies were evolving at a fast pace economically and social norms were shifting to a more materialistic/individualistic tone. Social solidarity began to weaken and thus the opportunity for a new wave of crime arose (Hamlin, 1999). At the same time, people could not fully grasp what white collar crime was as society had linked crime with damage to an individual or possession. Consequently, the white collar crime phenomenon establishes evidence on how crime will always exist and can be functional for society as it allowed us to expand the boundaries of morality and acceptable behaviours. New norms are created to punish new criminal behaviour and the collective consciousness for understanding the new behaviour is internalized for that specific moment (Hamlin, 1999). As a result, new legislation was developed for white collar crime (Hamlin, 1999). However, societies will keep evolving and as Durkheim claimed, organic social solidarity will produce new complex issues towards social norms (Pavlich, 2011.) This cyclical process is why crime will always exist and will allow societies to remodel social norms.

Reference:

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

The Normality of Crime: Durkheim and Erikson. Retrieved from: http://www.d.umn.edu/cla/faculty/jhamlin/4111/Durkheim%20-%20Division%20of%20Labor_files/The%20Normality%20of%20Crime.pdf

Understanding White-Collar Crime: Definitions, Extent, and Consequences. Retrieved from: http://www.sagepub.com/upm-data/43839_2.pdf

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Importance of Crime for the Sake of Social Evolution

  1. This is an interesting post!

    Questions arising:

    Which of the legal forms identified by Durkheim is most applicable to social responses to white collar crime?

    How can Durkheim’s sociology of law explain the comparative severity in the treatment of theft and robbery, as opposed to white collar crime? What is the relationship between the seriousness of these offences and the way that they resonate in the collective conscience?

    • sgahunia

      The legal form identified by Durkheim that is applicable to white collar crime is restitutive law. Crime has developed towards what’s known as “human criminality,” where the emphasis is placed on the “individual” committing the crime not on society as a whole. The evolution of crime (e.g. white collar crime) and society has led to these acts impairing modern individual consciousness. With the development of the division of labour, the social solidarity is disturbed and people no longer share similar experiences; thus, individuals vary greatly and each follow their own consciousness. As a result, the form of law and punishment must change. This expansion on individualism and growth is what promotes Durkheim’s organic solidarity, where restitution dominates and differences are expected; hence, morality evolves. Conventional shared values are still present but become generalized, since they are less common in the whole spectrum of daily shared experiences. New crimes (like white collar crime) are dealt with mechanisms that deprive freedom, which allows flexible ways of punishment (restitutive law). Consequently, the comparative severity in treating theft and robbery with white collar crime can be explained through his concept of social solidarity and the anomie problem that is a side effect from the division of labour. Theft and robbery are crimes that have existed in the past and thus have been internalized as common crimes. As society advanced and the division of labour increased in the past, anomie still occurred and certain crimes developed, like theft. As a result, social consensus changed and outlawed those crimes. We developed tools to understand and measure severity and punishments with theft. However, white collar crime was a new phenomenon that peaked within the 1990’s from quick economic expansion, and is going through the same phase theft went through. This ties in to Durkheim’s concept of increased division of labour. The main difference of severity that exists between theft and white collar crime is that there was a lack of regulation among business executives and businesses from society, which caused confusion and gave some individuals a sense that de-regulation meant that they could get away with crimes. The corporate crimes (e.g. Enron) that followed came from anomie where common morality was lacking as industrial development arose under capitalism. There were no rules to resolve the problem as social structures (legislators, courts) were not prepared to handle this new crime and had little precedence (e.g. measuring harm). People had already the tools to understand how severe common theft was since it was internalized from the past moral consensus but the consensus was disrupted when white collar crime developed. Moreover, the main relationship between the seriousness of these crimes is that they both steal and violate individual and property rights; however, the main difference lies in the way they resonate in the collective conscience. From previous societal experience with theft, we came to normalize that offenders where those that were less fortunate, criminogenic and needed to steal to survive. We could see it and we could measure it; however, offenders of white collar crimes tend to be privileged and respected and no physical harm is done initially. Since it was a new thing, most people could not internalize it in our collective conscience as society did not have rules for it. We became confused, which resulted in societies moral boundaries to evolve and legislation/punishment to develop. With evolving technology, white collar crimes became prevalent and the collective conscience shifted to where society has internalized/included new norms about this new crime.

      http://uregina.ca/~gingrich/250j1503.htm