Sociology 2259 Lecture Notes - Friedrich Engels, Conflict Theories, Structural Marxism

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9 Feb 2013
Critical Theories of Deviance
1. Conflict Theories
2. Power-Reflexive Theories
3. Feminist Theories
Conflict Theory of Deviance
Macro-level approach
Focus on FORMAL social control of deviant behaviour
Social order is maintained through management of conflict between different groups in society
Focus on WHO has the power to create rules that deviantize those with less power
Conflict theory of deviance includes 3 basic elements:
Social rules emerge from conflict and serve the interests of society's powerful groups
Members of powerful groups are less likely to break the rules because...
Members of powerful groups are more likely to break the rules because...
Society is divided into groups with competing interests
Social rules emerge from this conflict
However, the dominant group organizes society in order to preserve and reproduce power
Therefore the rules serve powerful interests and deviantize those that are powerless
The goal of a conflict approach to deviance is to explain crime within economic and social
contexts including:
The connections among social class, crime, and social control
The role of government/criminal justice system (CJS) in creating criminogenic
Bias in the justice system
The relationship between capitalism and crime rates
Karl Marx (1818-1883)
Bourgeoisie (“ruling” class) and proletariat (“powerless” class) have an unequal relationship
due to power differentials
Marx: capitalism would result in proliferation of criminal laws to foster the interests of the
Laws would prohibit behaviour that wasn't conductive to ruling class
Laws would legitimize formal social control by the ruling
Friedrich Engels (1820-1895)
Portrayed crime as a function of social demoralization
A collapse of people's humanity reflecting a decline in society
The brutality of the capitalist system turns workers into animal-like creatures
Without a will of their own
Willem Bonger (1876-1940)
Society is composed of ruling class and inferior class based on the system of production
Laws reflect the interests of the dominant class
Capitalism encourages egoism and criminality by equating status with property
Capitalism creates greed --> crime!
Modern Conflict Theory
Prominent during the 1960s
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Influenced by:
Labelling theories
Research on social inequality (racism, sexism) and social injustice
Social and political upheavals of the 60s and 70s
Sees crime/deviance as RATIONAL behaviour due to the nature of society
Group Conflict Theory (George Vold)
Vold: “Criminality is the normal, natural response of normal, natural human beings struggling
in understandably normal and natural situations for the maintenance of the way of life to which
they stand committed.”
Behaviour that conflicts with the ideology of the dominant group will be defined as
Deviant behaviour often associated with an ideological clash between dominant and less
powerful groups
“Core Struggle” (Austin Turk)
Dominant group must convince “powerless” group that norms/rules are legitimate
Coercing doesn't work
In order to convince the “powerless” of the current rules, dominant class uses:
Results in the “powerless” having a “False Consciousness”
Instrumental Marxism (Richard Quinney)
Laws and definitions of deviance are a “tool” of the ruling class
About serving interests of those in power and criminalizing the behaviour of those with minimal
Laws and definitions of deviance are instrumental to those making them
A “deviant” label is a means through which to control the powerless
Social Reality of Crime (Richard Quinney)
Definitions of behaviour (conformity and deviance) made by authorized political agents
Deviant/criminal definitions reflect interests of powerful
Degree of threat determines mode of enforcement
Less powerful = more deviant
Media disseminates “images” of crime = consensus
Crime is “constructed”
Nuts, Sluts, and Perverts (Alexander Liazos)
Fascination with individual deviants deflects our attention from social structure and “power”
Ignores “top dogs”—power holders
Sociologists should be focusing on “Covert Institutional Violence”
Structural Marxism (Stephen Spitzer - 1975)
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