Part 2 - Ch 6: Functionalism: The Normal
and the Pathological
by Emile Durkheim
one of the
founders of the
crime, in certain cases,
grows out of the living
abnormal forms of crime:
when its rate is unusually
the existence of criminality is
normal provided that is attains
and does not exceed, for each
social type a certain level, which it
is perhaps not impossible to fix in
conformity with the preceding
If society can be compared
to a living organism, then all
of its social institutions
must contribute to is
Deviance is not an illness or
pathology of the system, but
rather something that
contributes to society's positive
punishing and curing
criminals cannot be regarded
as the objective of society
If we lived in a "society of
saints", we would have to
redefine acts now
considered acceptable as
Crime is present in all
societies of all types
There is no society not
confronted with the problem
the form of criminality changes, the
acts are not the same everywhere,
everywhere and always have been
men who drew upon themselves
if the rate of criminality (in
relation to the yearly # of
crimes & the population)
declined, it might be that
crime, while still normal, is
losing it's character of
This is not substantiated
The movement is actually in
the opposite direction
Criminality has increased everywhere
to classify crime among the phenomena
of normal sociology is to affirm that it is
a factor in public health, an integral part
of all healthy societies
crime is normal because a society exempt
from it is utterly impossible
Crime consists of an act that offends
certain very strong collective sentiments
crime would not thereby disappear; it would only change its
form, for the very cause which would thus dry up the sources of
criminality would immediately open up new ones....
the sentiments they offend would have to be found
without exception in all individual consciousness
they must be found to exist with the same degree as
sentiments contrary to them
Imagine a society of
saints, a perfect cloister of
Crimes, properly so called, will there be
unknown, but faults which appear venial
to the layman will create there the
same scandal that the ordinary offense
does in ordinary consciousness
If, then, this society has the power to judge and
punish, it will define these acts as criminal and will
treat them as such.
the perfect and upright man judges
his smaller failings with a severity
that the majority reserve for acts
more truly in the nature of an
acts of violence against persons
were more frequent than they are
today, because respect for individual
dignity was less strong.
As this has increased, these crimes have become
more rare; and also, many acts violating this
sentiment have been introduced into the penal law
which were not included there in primitive times
Why should not even the most
feeble sentiment gather enough
energy to prevent all dissent?
The moral consciousness of the society would
be present in its entirety in all the individuals,
with a vitality sufficient to prevent all acts
offending it--the purely conventional faults as
well as the crimes.
But a uniformity so universal and absolute is utterly
impossible; for the immediate physical milieu in which
each one of us is placed, the hereditary antecedents, and
the social influences vary from one individual to the next,
and consequently diversify consciousness.
It is impossible for all to be alike, if only because each one
has his own organism and that these organisms occupy
different areas in space.
hat is why even among the lower peoples,
.where individual originality is very little
developed, it nevertheless does exist
since there cannot be a society in which the
individuals do not differ more or less from the
collective type, it is also inevitable that, among
these divergences, there are some with a
What confers this character upon them is not the intrinsic
quality of a given act but that definition which the collective
conscience lends them.
If the collective conscience is stronger, if it has enough authority practically to
suppress these divergences, it will also be more sensitive, more exacting, and,
reacting against the slightest deviations with the energy it otherwise displays only
against more considerable infractions, it will attribute to them the same gravity
as formerly to crimes. In other words, it will designate them as criminal.
Crime is, then, necessary; it is bound up with the fundamental conditions of all social life and by that very fact it is useful,
because these conditions of which it is a part are themselves indispensable to the normal evolution of morality and law....
Aside from this indirect utility, it
happens that crime itself plays a
useful role in this evolution.
Crime implies not only that the way remains open to necessary changes but that in certain cases it
directly prepares these changes.
Where crime exists, collective sentiments are sufficiently flexible to take on a new form and crime
sometimes helps to determine the forn they will take.
How many times, indeed, it is only an anticipation of future morality-a step toward what will be!
According to Athenian law, Socrates was a criminal, and his condemnation was no more than just.
However, his crime, namely, the independence of his thought, rendered a service not only to humanity but
to his country. It served to prepare a new morality and faith which the Athenians needed, since the
traditions by which they had lived until then were no longer in harmony with the current conditions of life.
Nor is the case of Socrates unique; it is reproduced periodically in history. It would never hav been possible
to establish the freedom of thought we now enjoy if the regulations prohibiting it had not been violated
before being solemnly abrogated. A that time, however, the violation was a crime, since it was an offense
against sentiments still very keen in the average conscience. And yet this crime was useful as a prelude
to reforms which daily became more necessary.
Liberal philosophy had as its precursors the heretics of all kinds who were justly punished by secular
authorities during the entire course of the Middle Ages and until the eve of modern times.
From this point of view the fundamental facts of criminality present
themselves to us in an entirely new light.
Contrary to current ideas, the criminal no longer seems a totally unsociable being, a sort of parasitic
element, a strange and unassimilable body, introduced into the midst of society. On the contrary he plays
a definite role in social life.
Crime, for its part, must no longer be conceived as an evil that cannot be too much suppressed.
There is no occasion for self-congratulation when the crime rate drops noticeably below the average
level, for we may be certain that this apparent progress is associated with some social disorder...
With the drop in the crime rate, and as a reaction to it, comes a revision, or the need of a revision in the
theory of punishment.
If indeed, crime is a disease, its punishment is its remedy and cannot be otherwise conceived; thus, all the
discussions it arouses bear on the point of determining what the punishment must be in order to fulfil
this role of remedy.
If crime is not pathological at all, the object of punishment cannot be to cure it, and its true function
must be sought elsewhere.