Hirschi: Bonds of Attachment (1969)
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Last updated 31 Aug 2020
Another important functionalist contribution to our understanding of crime and deviance comes from Travis Hirschi. While most sociologists who have thought about crime and deviance have focused on why people commit crimes, Hirschi focuses on why most people most of the time do not. How is social control achieved?
Hirschi identifies four "bonds of attachment" that keep people closely linked to the value consensus and ensure social control and order. These are
Turning this on its head: those who are more likely to commit crimes are those who do not have family attachments, work commitments, get involved in school or have a clear moral code. As such one could paint a picture of a likely criminal as someone marginalised, young and single.
Hirschi asks a very pertinent question in terms of what stops people committing crime rather than just thinking about why they do commit crime. Of course, they are two sides of the same coin: an absence of the bonds of attachment is suggested as a reason for criminality. This is useful because it introduces ideas of how to prevent crime and how to achieve social order. Hirschi's ideas have influenced social policymakers in that they are interested in how attachment can be promoted and deviance reduced. Promoting activities for young people, encouraging marriage and employment, encouraging values and morality in education are all ways in which policymakers could try and forge bonds of attachment and reduce deviance.
As with other functionalist sociologists, Hirschi does not really address the issue of why some members of society have secure bonds of attachment and others are more marginalised. Marxists and feminists would point out that there is not a value consensus that benefits all members of society: instead, society is characterised by conflict. Capitalism produces detached, marginalised individuals deliberately as it creates in the unemployed a reserve army of labour whose existence helps the bourgeoisie keep wage levels down.
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