Vold’s Theoretical Criminology
Chapter 12: Conflict Criminology
- Two contrasting views of sociologists
o Consensus theorists place a consensus of values at the very center of human societies, -
that is, shared beliefs about what is good, right, just, important, or at least excusable.
o Conflict theorists in contrast, place conflicts of interests at the very center of human
societies – that is, competitions over money, status and power.
- Consensus theorists recognize that there inevitably will be at least some value conflicts among
different individuals and groups in every human society
- Consensus theorists argue that the role of the organized state is to mediate these conflicts and
to represent the common values and interests of the society
- Conflict theorists argue that interests ultimately determine values
- They argue that the organized state does not represent common interests, but instead
represents the interests of those with sufficient power to control its operation. As a results
more powerful people are legally freer to pursue self-interests, while less powerful people who
pursue self-interests are more likely to be officially defined and processed as criminal
Early Conflict Theories: Sellin and Vold
In 1938, Thorton Sellin presented a theory of criminology that focused on the conflict of “conduct
- Conduct norms are cultural rules that require certain types of people to act in certain ways in
- Sellin defined “primary cultural conflicts” as those occurring between two divergent cultures
- “Secondary cultural conflicts” occur when a single culture evolves into several different sub
cultures, each having its own conduct norms.
Twenty years after Sellin, Vold presented a group conflict theory in the original edition of the present
- His theory was based on a “social process” view of society as a collection of groups held
together in a dynamic equilibrium of opposing group interests and efforts.
- In Vold’s theory, groups in society more or less continuously struggle to maintain or improve
their place in an ongoing interaction and competition with other groups.
- Vold described criminal behaviour as the behaviour of minority power groups – that is, groups
that do not have sufficient power to promote and defend their own interests and purposes in
the legislative process
- Vold’s group conflict theory suggested that a considerable amount of crime is intimately related
to the conflicts of groups.
- Vold argued that group conflict theory was strictly limited to those kinds of situations in which
the individual criminal acts flow from the collision of groups whose members are loyally
upholding the in-group position. The theory doesn’t explain many kinds of impulsive and
irritational criminal acts that are unrelated to any battle between different interest groups in
Conflict Theories in a Time of Conflict
- Ten years after Vold wrote his theory, the U.S. was embroiled in enormous social and political
turmoil surrounding the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War. Three important conflict
theories were published within three years.
In 1969, Austin Turk proposed a “theory of criminalization” that attempted to describe “the
conditions under which… differences between authorities and subjects will probably result in
conflict and the conditions under which criminalization will probably occur in the course of conflict. - Turk argued that the organization and sophistication of both authorities and subjects affect the
likelihood of conflict between them.
- Turk defined sophistication as “knowledge of patterns in the behaviour of others which is used
in attempts to manipulate them”
- Given the conditions that affect the likelihood of conflict between authorities and subjects, Turk
discussed the conditions under which conflict is more likely to result in the criminalization of the
subjects. The primary factor will be the meaning that the prohibited act or attribute has for
those who enforce the law. The second factor will be the relative power of the enforcers and
- Criminalization will be greatest when the enforcers have great power and the resisters are
- The third factor is what he called the “realism of the conflict moves” and it is related to how
likely an action taken by the subjects or authorities may improve the potential for their ultimate
In 1970, Richard Quinney published his theory of “the social reality of crime”