Chapter 8 - Social Power & the Construction of Crime
CHART –Aboriginal adult admissions to custody by province and territory, 2010/2011
• US – AfricanAmericans overrepresented in prisons
• Canada – the largest group that is discriminated against are Aboriginals – they are the ones that are
hugely overrepresented in the CJS
• Red line = % ofAboriginal adults in prison
• Blue line = % of Aboriginal in custody
• The biggest concern is in Saskatchewan (80% of individuals in prison are Aboriginals), Manitoba,
• Why areAboriginal people so overrepresented?
• Positivist perspective – you would examine individual or cultural variables
• Sociological perspective – cultural variables
• Critical perspective – labeling theorist would examine how native people have been labelled by
gov’t agencies through social welfare, school, sports, prisons
• Marxist perspective – native people are identified as criminalized population because it serves the
dominant group – justifies colonialism; such stereotyping is served to justify the history of
colonialism and racism in Canada
- Allows gov’t to ignore the impact of sending so many native people to residential schools +
ignores intergenerational trauma + serves as a mechanism to ignore how the state took
valuable land from FN people and left them with inferior plots
- This type of discrimination allows the state to foster and ignore the way it’s perpetuation
poverty and discrimination
• This can be analyzed differently depending on the perspective/theory you use
• As noted before, theories seeking to explain crime by locating its sources in biological, psychological
or social factors associated w/ the offender have tended to ignore the way in which "crime" is
produced & aggravated by the reaction to the real or imagined attributes or behaviour of those who
are being labeled offenders.
• Theories that focus attention on struggles b/w individuals &/or groups in terms of power differentials
fall into the category of conflict theory.
Forerunners of Conflict theory
Marx and Engels : Capitalism & Crime
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• Marx & Engels expressed concern over the apparent decline in social solidarity by the middle of the
• For M & E, crime was to some extent a symptom of this decline & would diminish (although
Durkheim made it clear that it never would disappear) if social solidarity could be regained.
• They differed in their analysis of the source of the erosion of solidarity & their prescription for its
• Durkheim saw the situation as a moral problem & argued that the social solidarity of the future would
depend on an effective combination of controls though modes of social integration & social
regulation that could operate in tune w/ the new division of labor that had been created by
• Marx & Engels saw the problem in economic terms, denounced the new division of labour as the
unjust exploitation of 1 social class by another, & insisted that social solidarity could be regained only
w/ the overthrow of capitalism itself.
• They proposed revolution followed by a period of socialism.
• B/c in their view the political state existed essentially as a mechanism for the perpetuation of
capitalism, it was deemed historically inevitable that the state would then "wither away".
• Marx & Engels stressed differences in interests & in power much more than did Durkheim. For them,
conflict was inherent in the nature of social arrangements under capitalism, for it was capitalism that
generated the vast differences in interests & capitalism that gave the few at the top so much power
over the many at the bottom.
• Marx & Engels' 3 propositions:
i. That conflict of interests b/w different groups will be increased by inequality in the
distribution of scarce resources (e.g food, clothing, shelter).
ii. Those receiving less of the needed resources would question the legitimacy of the
arrangement as they became aware of the nature of the "raw deal" they were getting.
iii. These groups would be then more likely to organize & to bring the conflict out into the open,
after which there would be polarization & violence, leading to the re-distribution of the scarce
resources in such a way that they would be shared by everyone.
• Capitalism was considered to be at the root of the conflict because it was a source of unjust inequality
• In this view, greater integration & regulation simply would tend to perpetuate an unjust economic
• According to Marx & Engels → The way to solve the problem of collapsing social solidarity
(conflict) was to destroy capitalism & build toward the one just form of social solidarity -
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• Capitalism dominates and exploits the working class
• Capitalism – keep oppressing the working class and preventing them from rebelling
• The Occupy Movement was a protest against the fact that 95% of the world’s economy is owned by
1% of the population
Theory in Context: The Turmoil of the 1960s
• Critical includes labeling, Marxism, feminism
• By the 1960s, criminological conflict theory came into its own
• Conflict theory highlighted the newly revealed patterns of social division and questioned the
legitimacy of the motives, strategies, and tactics of those in power
• Marxism emerged at the same time when there were rebellions (Women’s Rights Movement, Free
Speech Movement, Civil Rights Movement,Against War in Vietnam, etc…) in the West
• That’s when Marxism begins to be taken up in criminology (when these movements rise)
• In the 80s – 90s, most criminologist wouldn’t talk about Marxism
• In the last 5 years, we’ve seen this resurgence of Neo-Marxism
• What Marxism brought was a new attention to the sociology of law, power, and social context
• Marx and Engels didn’t write about crime
• Textbook:1960s → within the context of these times that both control & labeling theory peaked.
• Although control theory reacted by stressing the tenuous nature of complex society under conditions
of rapid social changes & insisted that crime & delinquency tended to spread with any significant
weakening of forces containing the individual, conflict theory highlighted the newly revealed patterns
of social division & questioned the legitimacy of the motives, strategies, & tactics of those in power.
• Although labeling theory exposed the way in which crime was a social construction of moral