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Chapter 6 Critical Theories Marxist, Conflict
Chapter Summary
  • Chapter Six is an overview of the critical
    theories of crime. The Chapter begins with an
    evaluation and analysis of Karl Marx.
  • From neo-Marxism came the more popular conflict
    theory of crime. The Chapter then discusses post
    modernism and peacemaking criminology, and
    explains why these theories are recognized in the
    critical framework.
  • After reading this chapter, students should be
    able to
  • Explain critical criminology.
  • Chapter Six then explains feminism, the
    gendered problem of crime.

Chapter Summary
  • The chapter concludes with an analysis and
    evaluation of each of the critical theories, as
    well as the policy implications that arise from
    the critical theories.
  • Understand Marxism and neo-Marxism
  • Explain the conflict perspective of crime
  • Understand postmodernist peacemaking
  • Discuss feminist criminology.
  • Analyze and critique the critical theories.
  • Discuss policy implications.

The Conflict Perspective of Society
  • Critical theorists see society riddled with
    dissension, inequality, and conflict.
  • Any apparent consensus in society is maintained
    by overt and covert coercion.
  • Critical criminology An umbrella term chosen for
    variety of theories united only the above
    assumption that conflict and power relations
    between various classes of people best
    characterize the nature of society.

Karl Marx Revolution
  • The core of Marxist is the concept of class
  • In Marxs time the oppressors were the wealth
    owners of the means of production (the
    bourgeoisie) and the oppressed were the working
    class (the proletariat).
  • The ruling class always develops ideologies to
    justify and legitimize their exploitation.
  • Marx called the workers acceptance of ideologies
    that ran counter to their interests false

Karl Marx Revolution
  • In time, false consciousness would be replaced by
    class consciousness that is, the recognition of
    a common class condition and the development of a
    common unity in opposition to capitalist
  • This would set the stage for revolution.

Karl Marx Revolution
  • According to Marx and Engels, criminals came from
    a third class in societythe lumpenproletariatwho
    would play no decisive role in the expected
  • Crime was the product of an unjust, alienating,
    and demoralizing social condition that denied
    productive labor to the masses of unemployed.

Karl Marx Revolution
  • The origin of crime has come to be known as the
    primitive rebellion.
  • Capitalist societies pass laws that criminalize
    any action that jeopardizes private property and
    tend to overlook many socially injurious
    activities viewed as economically beneficial for
    the ruling class.

Willem Bonger The 1st Marxist Criminologist
  • Willem Bonger Criminality and Economic
    Conditions (1969) supported the view that the
    roots of crime lay in the exploitative and
    alienating conditions of capitalism.
  • The social sentiments that concerned him were
    altruisman active concern for the well-being of
    othersand its opposite, egoism, a concern only
    for ones own selfish interests.

Willem Bonger The 1st Marxist Criminologist
  • According to Bonger, all individuals in
    capitalist societies are infected by egoism
    because they are alienated from authentic social
    relationships with their fellow human beings, and
    all are thus prone to crime.

Willem Bonger The 1st Marxist Criminologist
  • The root cause of crime is the capitalist mode of
  • Poverty was the major cause of crime, but the
    effects of poverty can be traced to the family
    structure and on parental inability to properly
    supervise their children.

Modern Marxist Criminology
  • Neo-Marxist criminology is little more than
    maudlin sentimentality for criminals.
  • Many neo-Marxist criminologists appear to view
    the class struggle is the only source of all
    crime and to view real crime as violations of
    human rights, such as racism, sexism,
    imperialism, and capitalism.

Modern Marxist Criminology
  • Other neo-Marxists are faithful to Marxs view
    and are critical of common street crime as an
    activity preventing the formation of proletarian
    class consciousness.

Left RealismTaking Crime Seriously
  • Left realist criminologists believe that the path
    of least resistance is to work within the system.
  • People make choices for which they must be held
    accountable, but there are a variety of
    conditions that make some choices more probable
    and understandable than others.

Conflict Theory Max Weber, Power Conflict
  • Max Weber had an interest in the social change
    wrought by the industrial revolution and in
    social conflict.
  • Weber viewed the various class divisions in
    society as normal, inevitable, and acceptable.
  • Criminality exists in all societies and is the
    result of the political struggle among different
    groups attempting to promote or enhance their
    life chances.

From Individual Violators to Group Struggles
  • George Vold moved conflict away from an exclusive
    emphasis of value and normative conflicts to
    include conflicts of interest.
  • Social life is a continual struggle to maintain
    or improve ones own groups interest in a
    constant clash of antagonistic actions.

From Individual Violators to Group Struggles
  • Volds conflict theory concentrates entirely on
    the clash of individuals loyally upholding their
    differing group interests, and has no interest in
    explaining crime unrelated to group conflict.
  • Conflict is a way of assuring social change, a
    way of generating group solidarity, and a way of
    assuring social stability.

The Social Reality of Crime
  • The ultimate cause of crime is the law.
  • Conflict criminologists differ from neo-Marxist
    criminology in that it concentrates on the
    processes of value conflict and lawmaking rather
    than on the social structural elements underlying

The Social Reality of Crime
  • Conflict theorists make no value judgment about
    whether crime is socially harmful, the actions of
    revolutionaries, or violations of human rights.
  • Conflict theorists tend to share neo-Marxisms
    fondness for research illustrating some principle
    of their perspectives rather than formulating
    hypotheses from it and putting them to the test.

Table 6.1 Comparing Marxist and Conflict Theory
on Major Concepts Concept
Origin of conflict The powerful oppressing the powerless (e.g., the bourgeoisie oppressing the proletariat under capitalism). It is generated by many factors regardless of the political and economic system.
Nature of conflict It is socially bad and must and will be eliminated in a socialist system. It is socially useful and necessary and cannot be eliminated.
Major participants in conflict The owners of the means of production and the workers are engaged in the only conflict that matters. Conflict takes place everywhere between all sorts of interest groups.
Social class Only two classes defined by their relationship to the means of production, the bourgeoisie and proletariat. The aristocracy and the lumpenproletariat are parasite classes that will be eliminated. There are number of different classes in society defined by their relative wealth, status, and power.
Table 6.1 Comparing Marxist and Conflict Theory
on Major Concepts Concept
Concept of the law It is the tool of the ruling class that criminalizes the activities of the workers harmful to its interests and ignores its own socially harmful behavior. The law favors the powerful, but not any one particular group. The greater the wealth, power, and prestige a group has, the more likely the law will favor it.
Concept of crime Some view crime as the revolutionary actions of the downtrodden, others view it as the socially harmful acts of class traitors, and others see it as violations of human rights. Conflict theorists refuse to pass moral judgment because they view criminal conduct as morally neutral with no intrinsic properties that distinguish it from conforming behavior. Crime doesnt exist until a powerful interest group is able to criminalize the activities of another less powerful group.
Cause of crime The dehumanizing conditions of capitalism. Capitalism generates egoism and alienates people from themselves and from others. The distribution of political power that leads to some interest groups being able to criminalize the acts of other interest groups.
Cure for crime With the overthrow of the capitalist mode of production, the natural goodness of humanity will emerge, and there will be no more criminal behavior. As long as people have different interests and as long as some groups have more power than others, crime will exist. Since interest and power differentials are part of the human condition, crime will always be with us.
Postmodernist Theory
  • Postmodernist criminology is firmly in the
    critical/radical tradition in that it views the
    law as an oppressive instrument of the rich and
    powerful, but it rejects the modernist view of
    the world.
  • All knowledge is socially constructed and has no
    independent reality apart from the minds of those
    who create it.

Postmodernist Theory
  • All worldviews are mediated by language.
  • The dominant language of society is the language
    of the rich and powerful, and by virtue of owning
    the dominant language their point of view is

Peacemaking Criminology
  • Peacemaking criminology has the philosophy of
    peace on crime.
  • Punishing criminals escalates violence.
  • In place of imprisoning offenders, peacemaking
    criminologists advocate restorative justice,
    which is basically a system of mediation and
    conflict resolution.

Feminist Criminology
  • Feminism is a set of theories strategies for
    social change that take gender as their central
    focus in attempting to understand social
    institutions, processes, and relationships.
  • Mainstream feminism holds the view that women
    suffer oppression discrimination in a society
    run for men by men who have passed laws and
    created customs to perpetuate their privileged
  • Gender power rather than class power.

Feminist Criminology
  • Female crime has been virtually ignored by
    mainstream criminology.
  • Generalizability problem Do traditional
    male-centered theories of crime apply to women?
  • Gender ratio problem What explains the universal
    fact that women are far less likely than men to
    involve themselves in criminal activity?

The Generalizability Problem
  • Anomie theory This theory cannot be applied to
    women because women are socialized to be
    successful in relationships, to get married, and
    to raise families, not for financial success.
  • Subculture theories This theory cannot explain
    why women who have achieved their relationship
    goals commit crimes.
  • Differential association This theory is better
    for explaining why females commit less crime than

The Generalizability Problem
  • Labeling The labeling perspective is not an
    explanation as to why people engage in deviance
    in the first place, and it lacks an analysis of
    the structures of power and oppression impinging
    on women
  • Marxism This theory neglects gender issues,
    plus, working-class women experience the same
    capitalist exploitation as men, but they still
    commit far less crime

The Gender Ratio Problem
  • -Mainstream feminists have asserted that if
    females were socialized in the same way as males
    had similar roles and experiences, their rates
    of criminal offending would be roughly the same.
  • -This assertion is denied by the biological
    sciences, as well as by radical feminists, who
    view gender difference in behavior as a function
    of differentially wired brains.

Masculinization Emancipation Hypothesis Adler
  • Freda Adler attributed the rise in female crime
    rates in the 1960s and 1970s to an increasing
    number of females adopting male roles, and by
    doing so increasingly masculinizing their
    attitudes and behavior (The Masculinization
  • Rita Simon claimed that increased participation
    in the workforce affords women greater
    opportunities to commit crime
  • (The Emancipation Hypothesis).

Masculinization Emancipation Hypothesis Adler
  • More recently, it has been proposed that the
    gender ratio exists
  • because gender differs in exposure to delinquent
    peers that males are more influenced by
    delinquent peers than females
  • because of female greater inhibitory morality.

Female-Centered Theory Criminalizing Girls
Survival Victim Precipitated Homicide
  • Rather than developing general theories of female
    crime, feminist theories have developed a series
    of models cataloging the responses of girls and
    women to situations more or less specific to
    their gender that result in the committing
    specific criminal acts.

Female-Centered Theory Criminalizing Girls
Survival Victim Precipitated Homicide
  • Chesney-Lind Girls victimization their
    response to it are shaped by their status in a
    patriarchal society in which males dominate the
    family define their daughters stepdaughters
    as sexual property.

Female-Centered Theory Criminalizing Girls
Survival Victim Precipitated Homicide
  • Victim-precipitated homicide, which is a
    homicide in which the murder victim initiates the
    sequence of events that leads to his or her death.

Radical Feminist Explanation
  • Radical feminists argue that because the
    magnitude of the gender gap varies across time
    and space and yet remains constantly wide at all
    ties and in all places that biological factors
    must play a large part.
  • The root of gender ratio lies in the fundamental
    differences between the genders.

Radical Feminist Explanation
  • Anne Campbell Staying alive hypothesisevolutiona
    ry logic is all about passing on genes that
    proved useful in the struggle for survival and
    reproductive success to future generations over
    the eons of time in which our most human
    characteristics were being formed.

Radical Feminist Explanation
  • Because offspring survival is so important to
    their reproductive success, females evolved a
    propensity to avoid engaging in behaviors that
    pose survival risks.
  • When females engage in crime they almost always
    do so for instrumental reasons, and their crimes
    rarely involve risk of physical injury.

Evaluation of Critical Theories
  • It is often said that Marxist theory has very
    little that is unique to add to criminology
  • Much of Marxist criminology appears to be in a
    time warp in that it assumes that the conditions
    prevailing in Marxs time still exist in the same
    form today in advanced capitalist societies.
  • Conflict theory does not attempt to explain
    crime it simply identifies social conflict as a
    basic fact of life and a source of discriminatory

Evaluation of Critical Theories
  • Postmodernism offers no viable alternative except
    to advance the notion that crime can be abated by
    changing the way people think and talk about it.
  • Peacemaking criminologists never offer any notion
    as to how crime rates can be reduced beyond
    counseling that we appreciate criminals point of
    view and not be so punitive.

Evaluation of Critical Theories
  • According to feminist theory, maleness is without
    doubt the best single predictor of criminal
  • This leaves feminist theorists without much left
    to explain in specific female terms about female

Policy Prevention Implications of Critical
  • The policy implications of Marxism are to
    overthrow the capitalist system and crime will be
  • Policy recommendations by left realists include
    community activities, neighborhood watches,
    community policing, dispute resolution centers,
    and target hardening.

Policy Prevention Implications of Critical
  • Conflict theorists favor programs such as minimum
    wage laws, sharply progressive taxation, a
    government controlled comprehensive health care
    system, maternal leave, and national policy of
    family support as a way of reducing crime.
  • Feminists argue to reform our patriarchal society
    as well as push the plight of victims into the
    light of day.
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