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Functionalists believe that crime and deviance are inevitable and necessary for a society. Crime shows other member of the society what is right and wrong. Social consensus decides how right and wrong is determined. Crime can lead to social change, say the functionalists, because the existence of crime proves to the people in society that the government does not overly control the citizens. Crime can also help the economy of a society by creating jobs for law enforcement officers, psychiatrists, probation officers and the like. Even in the functionalist society, too much crime can be bad for the group, causing it to lose the standard harmony and eventually causing the society to collapse. (www.criminology.fsu.edu)
Conflict theory is based upon the view that the fundamental causes of crime are the social and economic forces operating within society. The criminal justice system and criminal law are thought to be operating on behalf of rich and powerful social elites, with resulting policies aimed at controlling the poor. The criminal justice establishment aims at imposing standards of morality and good behavior created by the powerful on the whole of society. Focus is on separating the powerful from have nots who would steal from others and protecting themselves from physical attacks. In the process, the legal rights of poor folks might be ignored. The middle class are also co-opted; they side with the elites rather the poor, thinking they might themselves rise to the top by supporting the status quo.
Sociological Perspectives 5
Thus, street crimes, even minor monetary ones are routinely punished quite severely, while large-scale financial and business crimes are treated much more leniently. Theft of a television might receive a longer sentence than stealing millions through illegal business practices. William Chambliss, in a classic essay “The Saints and the Roughnecks,” compared the outcomes for two groups of adolescent misbehavers. The first, a lower class group of boys, was hounded by the local police and labeled by teachers as delinquents and future criminals, while the upper-middle class boys were equally deviant, but their actions were written off as youthful indiscretions and learning experiences. (http://www.criminology.fsu.edu/crimtheory/conflict.htm)
Crime-Symbolic Interactionist Theory
The theoretical perspective following on from this particular epistemological choice is
symbolic interactionism. Symbolic interactionists believe it is through engagement, or
interaction, with the world that a sense of meaning and reality is constructed. It is
contingent upon the notion of people ‘being in their world,’ or a part of their world,
that meaning and reality get imbued with ‘social meaning and reality.’ Being ‘in the
world’ and making sense of it relies on interaction with others, and constructing
meaning and reality through the use of ‘symbolic tools’ and their communication
(Crotty 1998). Interpretation is the other vital ingredient in the construction of social meaning, and, along with interaction, forms the core principles of symbolic interactionism (Bessant and Watts 2002; Wallace and Wolf 1999).
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Sociologist, Herbert Blumer, therefore calls on the researcher who incorporates a
symbolic interactionist perspective to get closer to the worlds of those being
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researched; to see it from the perspectives of those they encounter: “noting their
problems and observing how they handle them, being party to their conversations,
and watching their lives as they flow along” (Blumer 1969: 87, cited in Wallace and
Wolfe 1999). It challenges us to see life from the other’s point of view, or, in other
words, to put oneself into the shoes of the ‘other.’
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In my conclusion, I have to agree with the symbolic Interactionist theory to look at society as it really is and not how we want it to be. If we look at society how it really is then and only then can we start changing the way we all view each other.
Sociological Perspectives 8
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