Early Views on Criminology

In this post, we will look at some late 19th and early 20th-century views on criminology. In particular, we will look at the functionalist perspective and the Chicago School.

Functionalist Perspective

Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) was a major contributor to the functionalist perspective of criminology. This approach looks at crime in terms of the values and mores of society. For example, in most societies, certain values are preferred over others such as beliefs about roles in a family or about music and respect. In a similar line of thought, values of justice are preferred over values that encourage crime. What this means is that what is good is preferred over what is bad as defined by a group of people.


Deviance, as defined as breaking the rules and values of a society, serves an important function of defining what is right and wrong. Deviant behavior is an example of what is not acceptable and by seeing this negative behavior good is defined. For example, most cultures believe stealing is wrong and this behavior defines that asking for something and or giving something willingly is good.

Another tenet of the functionalist perspective is that fighting deviance helps to strengthen the cohesion and unity of a society. There are many examples of horrendous crime happening that galvanizes a community to pass laws to fight such abhorrent behavior. In other words, after something terrible happens society will rise up to make sure it never happens again and this only happens because deviant behavior had taken place.

On the flip side, if deviance is tolerated long enough it can help to establish no social norms. Many ideas that are supported and championed today were at one time or another considered deviant behavior. Views on reproductive rights, sexuality, and gender roles have faced tremendous pressure to change. Other proponents of behaviors that were once considered deviant have rallied to press their views into the forefront and place people who do not share their views on the defensive.

Chicago School and Crime

Another view of criminology that was developed around the same time as Durkheim’s work is the Chicago School perspective. This view was developed and encouraged by Robert Ezra Park (1964-1944). What was truly unique about this approach was its focus specifically on city life and crime that happens there.

Park explained that crime is worst in cities because of the structure of society. Cities encourage a higher degree of anonymity which can convince people they can get away with something without damaging any of their relationships. In addition, cities are more tolerant of diversity and thus deviance.

Park also shared the idea that crime can be found in certain areas of a city. This idea is based on how cities were designed. Certain parts of town were zoned in certain ways and industrial areas often will have more crime than suburban areas.

Crime is also considered a learned behavior. This idea was surprising for its time because many during Park’s era believed that people had a genetic predisposition to crime. For Park to place the blame on learning from others was a unique view.

Lastly, Park believe that agencies were the best defense against crime. For example, developing and funding government departments that deal with criminal behavior may be supported be Park.


The two views on criminology shared in this post provide insights into how researchers in the past viewed crime and its factors. Naturally, no single theory explains everything about a phenomenon. However, examining different theories helps a reader to understand the field of their studies.

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