Tag Archives: Durkheim

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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Crime as a Necessary Societal Function

This week’s food for thought question states that Durkheim’s sociology of law proposes that crime is a normal part of society which is necessary and indispensable. This means that law is a barometer for social norms. The idea that crime is necessary looks at the question of, what gives us, as a society, solidarity. Hunt proposes that Durkheim was mainly concerned with social solidarity. In Law & Society Redefined Pavlich notes how Hunt (1978) looked at how social solidarity asks “what is it about human society with its ever more complex interrelationships, structures and institutions which ensures not only its continuity and cohesion, but also its transformation. This is what I want to examine in this blog post, the notion that crime is necessary and the actions taken to prevent crime helps create a cohesive society.

The need for society to be cohesive is of grave importance. The point that Durkheim presents as crime being necessary is crucial because by working towards a common goal, in relation to dealing with crime, it brings the society together. If the government did not regulate crime there would be anarchy in the society. Back in the days of an eye for an eye there were unjust laws that enforced justice as revenge. At the time they may have seen this as just. However, in modern times there has been more of an approach of restitution. By this regulation of criminality society can now come together and strengthen their bonds by showing a united front against what society as a whole views as wrong.

The latest contemporary example which we had discussed in class was that of Amanda Todd. She was a young girl who committed suicide due to bullying. Most people know her story so I don’t think it is necessary to go into depth. What struck me most about this unfortunate situation is how it had to go to such an extreme before actions are taken. Not only this but also how social media as a whole has presented this to the public and the immense role that social media plays in societies view of an issue. I think it is great that the media is bringing this to the public’s attention, as it brings the community together. However, in my opinion I believe the government is not doing enough when it comes to such issues as Reno (1999) states “when incidents have been serious enough to warrant intervention by law enforcement, the traditional response has been to treat them as simple nuisance complaints” (Stewart & Fritsch, 2011)

I feel that something more needs to be done. One example of the government taking action is the case, from just a few days after the Amanda Todd death, of eight Ontario girls being arrested due to bullying. This shows that the government is no longer taking these issues as a simple complaint, but instead are choosing to act and do something. In some aspect it may be due to the immense role of the media shaping the public’s perception of this issue as a really big deal. Regardless, I think it is great that they are taking steps to ensure bullying is not taken lightly. In the article I have attached regarding the case of the 8 Ontario girls Bill Tucker states that “… the research says if an individual intervenes in bullying behaviour, we can stop bullying behaviour within seconds …in 50 per cent of cases”. I would be skeptical to accept this as a statistic because it isn’t from an academic article, yet I think it is essential to note simply the idea that by intervening in bullying it is possible to decrease or possibly stop the behaviour.

Overall, I feel that crime is necessary in a society and without it as individuals in society we wouldn’t be able to distinguish right from wrong. By having crime in society we determine the societal norms and how individuals should and should not behave. The point I have tried to examine in this blog post is that in a contemporary example of bullying, individuals need to stop stating the obvious by saying bullying is bad, and take a step and act on their thoughts in order to prevent it. By doing so it will create a unified society as we fight a united battle and show that even though we are aware that bullying exists we will not tolerate it if we witness it or hear about it. I believe this in itself will possibly prevent many cases of bullying from occurring.

References

Cbc News. 8 Ontario girls arrest in high school bullying case. Retrieved from: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/story/2012/10/19/london-bullying-arrests-girls-cyber.html

Pavlich, G. (2011). Law and Society Redefined. Ontario, Canada: Oxford

Stewart, D.M. & Fritsch, E.J. (2011). School and Law Enforcement Efforts to Combat Cyberbullying. Preventing School Failure, 55(2), 79-87. Doi: 10.1080/104598X.2011.539440

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Durkheim: Crime serves a Social Function

Food for Thought:
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.

Emile Durkheim’s theory that crime is a normal aspect of society is based on his belief that crime itself serves a social function.  That social function is to support or reassure the social norms of a society by the fact that crime is considered going against the norm.  Put simply, crime is simply deviant behaviour that goes against social norms.  It is with that model that law is created, from the adverse reactions of criminal behaviour by society.  As Pavlich (2011) states, “law is conceived of as the product of a given society” (p. 73).  Durkheim’s main focus was the idea of ‘social solidarity’, or how society works together as a whole and how society is organized.  He rejected the idea of individualism in the sense that society is the sum of its individual members; rather that it should be studied collectively.  Another principle of Durkheim’s that keeps society stable is ‘social facts’, that is, “ways of acting, thinking, and feeling, external to the individual,” (Pavlich, 2011, p. 74).  It is these social facts that hold control and authority over individuals to keep society stable.

One of the main arguments for Durkheim’s theory is that since crime is found in all societies, it must be performing necessary functions otherwise it would disappear in an advanced society. (Hamlin, 2009).   One of these necessary functions is social change.  Crime is one of the most effective sources of social change in any society.  When crime goes against social norms, eventually a society’s collective belief will transform thus bringing about social change.  A prime example is the Anti-miscegenation laws in the United States that promoted racial segregation.  As society progressed many people began violating the laws at the time until society reached a point where it was considered a norm for inter-racial relationships in society.  Eventually racial segregation was abolished and in today’s society would violate social norms.

In my opinion, I would agree to some extent, with Durkheim’s theory and say that he is correct in saying that crime is inevitable.  Moreover, it is largely inevitable in societies with higher inequality such as socio-economic statuses which Durkheim mentions as being a factor of crime.  However, crime will always occur in every society regardless of its socio-economic state because most social norms are based on a moral code.  That moral code can only be defined by previous criminal behaviour for that specific society.  Therefore, crime has to be present for social norms and laws to be created.

One point of Durkheim’s that I agree with in theory but disagree with in a practical sense is his notion that crime reinforces social norms because that contradicts how crime can bring about social change.  If social norms against crime collectively become stronger when it is committed, then how can those norms be reversed?

References:

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

Hamlin, J. (2009) The Normality of Crime. Durkheim and Erikson, Department of Sociology and Anthropology. UMD

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Crime: Normal, Moral, Profitable

Food for Thought: Durkheim

The term “social fact” became prominent through the work of French Sociologist Emile Durkheim. According to Durkheim, social facts are “ways of acting, thinking, and feeling, external to the individual, and endowed with the power of coercion, by reason of which they control him.” (Pavlich, 74) Notably, he contends that law and crime are social facts, which are “’visible symbol[s]’ of social solidarity” or collectivity (Pavlich, 79). Durkheim postulates that crime is a normal and necessary phenomenon in social life, as it is essential to establishing normalcy and morality. Without it, we would not be able to distinguish between criminal and normal actions (Pavlich, 79-80). But beyond establishing normalcy and morality, one can argue that crime serves another purpose in society – it is profitable.

In Durkheim’s division of labour, he contends that modern solidarity emerges from differences. That is, we become increasingly dependent on each other’s expertise to function. He calls this organic solidarity (Pavlich, 75-77). Unlike the repressive law of the past, Durkheim notes that modern society has moved towards restitutive law. Modern society is characterised by a weak collective conscience, in which citizens are asked to obey laws or pay restitution for breaking them. Ultimately, we rely upon the criminal justice system to enforce law and morality. Thus, because we are so reliant on law officials – that is, police, judges, lawyers, prison officials, etc. – we keep them employed. So, crime is not only profitable for offenders, but also for officials. One such example of the criminal justice system finding crime profitable is the so-called “prison-industrial complex.”

In America today, private prisons are big business. Like many other corporations, they have sought to lobby government officials, who stiffen laws and sentences in their favour. The more Americans that are incarcerated in their prisons, the higher the profits. Thus, there is always an incentive to incarcerate more of the general population. For example, in many instances, we see that drug laws are used to prosecute many petty drug users. Yet, corporations are not the only ones who rely on crime from profits, governments rely on it too.

In Canada, each municipality and province relies on taxes and fines for revenue. In recent years, as the cost of governmental responsibilities increase, we have seen municipalities ramping up their efforts to bring in revenue by issuing fines. One such example recently happened in Edmonton, Alberta, where police issued over 6, 000 traffic tickets during Thanksgiving weekend. So, as we can see from these examples and others, crime not only establishes normalcy and morality, it is also a part of our economy.

More on the Prison-Industrial Complex:

– Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prison%E2%80%93industrial_complex

– RT America: http://youtu.be/mZ3oJGqr6ls

More on Municipalities Issuing Tickets:

– Edmonton: http://www.inews880.com/news/edmonton/story.aspx?ID=1788652

– Yukon: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/story/2012/10/10/north-yukon-operation-impact-tickets.html

References

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

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