Chapter 14: Conflict theories
CULTURAL CONFLICT THEORY: THORSTEN SELLIN
• In culturally homogeneous societies, conduct norms reflect consensus (everyone agrees on these norms)
• In more complex heterogeneous societies there will be conflict between conduct norms of different groups
(different people want different things based on religious views i.e. Canada.)
• The conduct norms of dominant groups will be enacted into criminal law — “criminal norms” (most of the
time, majority wins like Canadian criminal justice law)
• Culture conflict occurs when individuals from a different group(most of the time the nondominant groups)
act on the basis of their own conduct norms that have been criminalized.
• Usually these different norm are due to the Impact of colonization, migration & immigration
• Example – immigrants follow “traditional” ways that conflict with norms of new society (e.g. honour
GROUP CONFLICT THEORY (1)
• Vold focuses on conflict between diverse interest groups within society (labor, political groups, etc.)
• He sees society as a collection of groups in a constantly shifting equilibrium of opposing group
interests (people forms groups and partnerships)
• Law results from politics and the interest groups that can marshal the greatest number of votes will have the
most influence in passing new laws (gun control vs no control. The one that has the most votes will)
• CONFLICT btw different interest groups can lead to crime in two different ways:
• (1) A RESULT OF MINORITY GROUP behavior: for a delinquent gang (i.e. hell angles) is a minority
group whose interests are in opposition to majority adult values. Another example are the Conscientious
objectors refuse military service during wartime
• 2) CONFLICT BETWEEN INTEREST GROUPS who are vying for power▯Political revolution makes
criminals of those who previously held power. Another example is the conflict between management and the
labor union. In the case of high tension between them, Strikes may escalate into violence or other offences
and Crimes may result from jurisdictional disputes
• This theory is limited to instances criminal behavior arises form the conflict btw interest groups and does not
try to explain any other kind of criminals act (i.e. individual criminal acts)
• In addition to narrow scope of explanation, Other limitation is that often it is only one member of the gorup
against another member rather then the whole group that is involved in conflict.
• Sellin focused on cultural group conflict; Vold on interest group conflict
• Quinney on ‘segments’ of society or types of ‘social groupings’.
• The more powerful segments are able to secure and protect their own interests by influencing the
formulation, enforcement and administration of the law
• Quinney emphasizes unequal distribution of power. Some groups are never able to influence policy more
then other and thus it is not an equilibrium as the sellin suggested.
QUINNEY’S SIX PROPOSITIONS:
• 1. Crime is a definition of human conduct that is created by authorized agents in a politically organized
society. The ones in power decide what is crime.
• 2. Criminal definitions describe behaviors that conflict with the interests of the segments of society that have
the power to shape public policy.
• 3. Criminal definitions are applied by the segments of society that have the power to shape the enforcement
and administration of criminal law. Thus, the interest of the powerful are not only in the formulation, but are
also represented in its application (police, judges, represent interest of powerful)
• 4. Behavioural patterns are structured in segmentally organized society in relation to criminal definitions and
within this context persons (mostly those of less powerful) engage in actions that have relative probabilities
of being defined as criminal because their intrest do not represent of powerful. • 5. Conceptions of crime are constructed and diffused in the segments of society by various means of
communication (i.e. powerful use the media ▯ until the particular conception of the crime becomes reality to
everyone in society.
• 6. The social reality of crime is constructed by the formulation and application of criminal definitions, the
dev. of behavioural patterns related to criminal definitions and the construction of criminal conceptions (this
definition is essential summarizing 25)
• Just like the previous studies, does NOT look at individual for explanation for crime but rather the society.
• Assumes that crime can only be understood in relation to the social, political and economic structures of the
society in which it occurs. Thus, society as a whole must be analyzed.
• Marxist argued that Crime is rooted in the structure of capitalism, especially in capitalist economic relations
rather then just the ability of the most powerful as previously stated.
• These political and economical structures under capitalism promote conflict, in turn providing the
precipitating condition (i.e. unemployment) for crime occurs.
• They argued that the way capitalist society is organized is a problem specially the means of production.
• The mode of production: refers to the economic system whereby the good are produced, exchanged, and
distributed in the society. This is composed of the following:
• Forces of production – the tools, techniques and raw materials used in production
• Social relations of production – the relationships with respect to ownership of the means of production (i.e.
the capitalist class and the working class)
• Capitalist society is based on class exploitation because the capitalists extract the value of labor as profit
(difference btw the value the worker produce vs. what the worker gets paid in wages)
• Thus one class dominates another (based on the ownership to means of production) and the social structures
will be designed based on this dominant class.
• Thus, in society such as America, where the economic basis has the determining influence on the structure
of the institutions in society, law, crimes, and criminology must be studied in relations to whole society
specially the economic sphere
• Marxist perspective can be further divided into two.
INSTRUMENTAL MARXISM (1)
• The state and its legal and political institutions directly serve the interests of the capitalist class. (They are
one and you cannot separate them)
• Law is equated with class rule – capitalists use the state to dominate society since it can manipulate the state
and the legal system (because it own the means of productions)
• Marx & Engels: “The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of
• If we look at an American society, then based on the above 6 propositions (quinney)
1) American society is based on advances capitalist economy
2) State is organized to serve the interest of the dominant economic class
3) Criminal law is instrument of the sate and the ruling class to main its power
4) Crime control in capitalist society is established by institution that are established by the ruling class
5) Ruling class believe that the subordinates MUST remain oppressed to whatever mean necessary
6) Only society based on socialist principal will bring solution to crimes.
CRITICISMS OF INSTRUMENTAL MARXISM
• The ruling class has factions in a ruling society. They are not to be viewed as unified and homogenous group
(liberal and NDP are different then conservatives. They will not pass the same laws.)
• There has been a lack of analysis concerning how structural factors may shape the actions of ruling class
member (i.e. the ruling class can’t do what they want, there is a limit to their power and this power shifts
around depending on that person such as stock prices go down, or c