Vold’s Theoretical Criminology
Chapter 13: Marxist and Postmodern Criminology
- The term critical criminology has been described as an umbrella designation for a series of
evolving, emerging perspectives that are characterized particularly by an argument that it is
impossible to separate values from the research agenda, and by a need to advance a
progressive agenda favouring dis-privileged peoples.
- Critical theories share the view that inequality in power is causally related to the problem of
crime. But conflict theory largely ignores the sources of origins of power, while critical
perspectives make specific arguments on that issue.
- Marxist theories generally locate power in ownership of the means of production, while
postmodern theories locate it in the control over language systems.
- Both perspectives imply that the crime problem can be solved only if power arrangements
- Getting to the root of the problem of crime according to these perspectives requires social
change at the most fundamental level. Ultimately the focus is on ideals, such as social justice
and attempt to determine how contemporary societies can achieve these ideals. (the focus is
on what ought to be, not what is)
Overview of Marx’s Theory
- Karl Marx wrote in the immediate aftermath of the massive social changes that were
brought about by the Industrial Revolution..
- His theory linked economic development to social, political, and historical change, but it did
not deal with the problem of crime in any significant way.
- The development of material forces of production is relatively continuous throughout
history, since it consists of the development of technology, skills, and so forth. The social
relations of production however tend to freeze into particular patterns for long periods.
- Marx argued capitalist societies tend to [polarize into two conflicting groups
o One group consists of people who own an increasing portion of the property in the
society. Over time this group gets smaller and richer
o The other group consists of employed and unemployed wage labourers, which
keeps getting larger and poorer.
o He called the growing and condensing aspect of these groups the “contradiction” in
capitalism; as it becomes more extreme, it acts as a great hindrance to the further
development of the material forces of production.
Marx on Crime, Criminal Law, and Criminal Justice
- Marx didn’t focus on crime, but he addressed it in certain passages
- In one of the passages, Marx argued that it was essential to human nature that people be
productive in life and in work, but in industrialized capitalist societies, the large numbers of
unemployed and underemployed people are unproductive and demoralized; thus they are
subject to all forms of crime and vice
o Marx called these people the LUMPENPROLETARIAT
- In another passage Marx argued against the classical philosophy, dominant in his day, that
all people freely and equally joined in a social contract for the common good and that the
law represented a consensus of the general will.
- Marx did not see crime as the wilful violation of the common good, but as the “struggle of
the isolated individual against the prevailing conditions” this conclusions is sometimes
called Marx’s primitive rebellion thesis, since it implies that crime is a primitive form of rebellion against the dominant social order, one that eventually may develop into conscious
- Marx later argued in Capital that the economic basis of capitalism rested on a similar theft of
the traditional rights of the peasants.
- He also argued, the economic basis of capitalism had been established by a theft of the
grandest scale imaginable, a theft accomplished through the coercive power of the criminal
The Emergence of Marxist Criminology
- An early Marxist criminologist, Willem Bonger, provided an extensive theory of crime in his
book “Criminality and Economic Conditions” in 1916
- Bonger argued that the capitalist economic system encouraged all people to be greedy and
selfish and to pursue their own benefits without regard for the welfare of their fellows.
- Crime is concentrated in the lower classes because the justice system criminalizes the greed
of the poor while it allows legal opportunities for the rich to pursue their selfish desires
- He also argued that a socialist society would ultimately eliminate crime because it would
promote a concern for the welfare of the whole society and would remove the legal bias that
favours the rich.
- After the 1920s, Marxist criminology virtually disappeared for a while, but then came back
in the 1970s
- By the mid-1970s a specifically Marxian criminology began to take shape
o This new rigorous Marxist criminology attempts to relate criminal behaviour and
crime policies to the political economy of the particular societies in which they
occur and it relies primarily on historical and cross cultural