The Functions of Crime in the Theories of Emile Durkheim and Robert King Merton.

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Durkheim’s most significant theoretical contribution to the field of criminology is his formulation of the concept of anomie. According to Durkheim’s theory, society has the need and the moral right to regulate the behavior of its citizens. When society is in a state of rapid transition, the rules of society break down and people no longer can appraise their situation, “ambition was perpetually stimulated but never satisfied (Walter 1972). This condition Durkheim called “acute anomie” (Gottfredson and Hirsch 1990, p. 54). Chronic anomie occurs when overwhelming importance is attached to economic progress as the supreme goal in and of itself and a secondary consideration is given to the regulation of human conduct and the control of individual ambition.

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These conditions which prevailed in the nineteenth century contributed significantly to the variety of social problems observed in that society (Durkheim 1992).According to Merton’s theory, deviance is most likely in societies in which success is a major societal objective but where many of the inhabitants are unable to acquire the material possessions or social status that denote success. His theoretical argument is formulated in terms of the societally recognized goals that individuals strive for and the institutionalized means used to regulate access to these desired objectives (Gottfredson and Hirsch 1990).

Merton recognizes that these goals and means are not equally available to all individuals because of the differentiated class and ethnic structure of American society. Striving for success within a society that is achievement-oriented, some individuals for whom traditional paths to achievement are closed follow illegitimate or deviant means to attain success within that society Although this theory was originally developed in terms of American society, it has been applied to many of the world’s other industrialized societies as an explanation of the persistence of criminal behavior (Merton 1967).

The other similarity between Durkheim and Merton is an understanding of the social impact on an individual and his behavior.

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