“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.
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