Harry Potter and the Functions of Crime?

Teaching something like Durkheim and the Functions of Crime can sometimes be a little difficult for students to grasp, so one way to make it more accessible might be to teach it by associating it with something more well-known and accessible, such as the Harry Potter books.

More-specifically, Jenn Simms has drawn parallels between the role of Bellatrix Lestrange and the Death Eaters in the novels and the key points of Durkheim’s arguments about how deviance is both normal and functional.

The atrocities committed by the Death Eaters definitely count as deviance. They destroyed the Millennium Bridge in London, killed Muggles and Muggle-born witches and wizards just for entertainment and tortured the Longbottoms to the point of insanity. How could that possibly be functional for society?”.

Crime is Functional because…

1. It promotes social cohesion by “defining the norms of a society”. Norms are something we rarely, if ever think about – precisely because they are an engrained part of our normal lives. It is only when norms are broken – when someone deviates from the norm – that we start to think about the “unspoken rules” that promote social cohesion by specifying how we should all do something.

In the Wizarding World, one function of deviants like Bella Lestrange is to continually remind the society of its values and norms. When she and others tortured the Longbottoms and the rest of the community quickly and rightly considered them deviant criminals for it, their actions nonetheless helps define – for example to young children growing up learning the ways of their society – that respect for life is a value that they hold and not harming others is a norm in their community”.

2. It establishes and maintains social boundaries (a boundary setting function). For Durkheim, an important way our social and personal identities are created and maintained is by comparing ourselves with others, something that leads to the interesting and somewhat ironic observation that we can only see ourselves as individuals (our personal identity) by belonging to a much a larger group or society. Without society, there couldn’t be individuals because we would have no reason or ability to compare ourselves to others.

In terms of crime and deviance, therefore, the behaviour of those who break legal and moral norms serves to reinforce ideas about where the boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour lie.

Criminals like Bella and the Death Eaters serve as an out-group against which the rest of the law abiding members of society define their social identify. Dumbledore touches on this when he asked Snape to kill him quickly to spare him the “messy” death Greyback would deliver or the prolonged suffering he would experience at Bella’s hands given that she likes to play with her food before she eats. In defining their actions as deviant and bad, Dumbledore was drawing a social boundary with decent compassionate euthanizers like Snape on one side and deviant torture happy murderers like Death Eaters on the other”.

3. It  promotes social solidarity and social integration. Public displays of condemnation and punishment both strengthen social integration by making the law-abiding feel they having something in common and promote social solidarity by allowing non-criminals to share a moral commitment to uphold the law.

“The court trials and public sentencing to prison Bella and other Death Eaters provided “rituals that helps build solitary” cohesion, among the rest of the law abiding population”.

4. It promotes both social order and social change. Despite Functionalism being generally characterised as a perspective that has little or no interest in explaining social change, Durkheim argued crime and deviance are functional precisely because they provide a broad mechanism and vehicle to promote (evolutionary) change. Deviance has an innovatory aspect (something echoed, for example, in Merton’s later Strain Theory) because it necessarily challenges prevailing social norms. In this respect, social responses to deviance may promote changes in the law (Homosexuality in the UK, for example, was only decriminalised in 1967), the introduction of new forms of technology to combat crime and the like.

The DA’s meeting notification coins, which were designed by Hermione and instrumental in alerting fellow students during the Battle of the Astronomy Tower and the Battle of Hogwarts, were modeled on the Death Eaters’ Dark Mark. Moreover, because of the Death Eaters’ crimes Harry, Ron, and Neville made significant improvements to Auror’s department, thereby better protecting the wizarding community from future harm of this kind”.

And if you want to reinforce all of this with a bit of video, here’s a preview of our updated version of Durkheim and the Functions of Crime…

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