SOC 2700 Chapter Notes - Chapter 13: Syllogism, Serendipity, Critical Criminology

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Criminological Theory Chapter 13
Marxist & Postmodern Criminology
- Critical criminology: 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 favoring disprivileged peoples
- 2 types of critical perspectives:
1. Marxist criminology
2. Postmodern criminology
- Critical theories share the view that inequality in power is causally related to the problem of crime
- Unlike conflict theories, critical theories make specific arguments on the sources or origins of power
- Marxist theories locate power in ownership of the means of production
- Postmodern theories locate power in the control over language systems
- According to these theories, getting to the root of the problem of crime requires social change at the
most fundamental level
- The focus on what ought to be rather than what is, on the ideal rather than on the real, is what
distinguishes these theories from mainstream criminology
- Critical theories are difficult to summarize because
1. Their complexity leads to profound disagreements among different theorists within the same
2. Theorists in these areas may frequently change their own positions as their thinking develops
Overview of Marx’s Theory
- Karl Marx developed his theory in the immediate aftermath of the social changes brought on by the
Industrial Revolution
- He attempted to explain why these changes occurred and what was coming next
- His theory linked economic development to social, political, and historical change, but didn’t deal with
the problem of crime in any significant way
- The principal conflict in his theory was the conflict between the material forces of production and the
social relations of production
- Material forces of production: a society’s capacity to produce material goods and includes
technological equipment and the knowledge, skill, and organization to use that equipment
- Social relations of production: relationships among people that include property relationships,
which determine how the goods produced by the material forces of production are distributed
- The development of material forces of production is generally continuous throughout history, but the
social relations of production tend to freeze in particular patterns for long periods of time
- When first established the social relations enhance the development of the material forces of
production, but they become increasingly inconsistent with the material forces and begin to impede
their further development
- Eventually the social relations change abruptly and violently, and new social relations are
established that enhance the development of the material forces of production
- Marx used this model to explain the changes that occurred in European societies
- When the social relations of feudalism were established, they were progressive and necessary
for further development of the material forces of production
- After a thousand years, the material forces of production had developed extensively but the
social relations had hardly changed and at this point they were hindering the further development of
the material forces of production
- The new social relations of production after the Industrial Revolution bourgeois capitalism were
necessary for the further development of material forces of production
- The material forces of production would keep developing under capitalism, but the social relations
would remain fixed
- Over time the social relations of capitalism would become an obstacle to the further development of
material forces of production and Marx predicted there would be a sudden restructuring of the social
relations in which socialism would replace capitalism
- He believed socialism would replace capitalism because:
- Property is increasingly concentrated into fewer and fewer hands, and former capitalists are
transformed into wage laborers who work for someone else instead of having people work for them
- Also, increasing mechanization in business and industry means that fewer workers are needed,
so there’s an increasing pool of underemployed and unemployed workers. With so many workers who
want jobs, those who have jobs can be paid low wages because others will work for even less
- Marx argued capitalist societies tend to polarize in 2 conflicting groups:
1. Consists of people who own an increasing portion of the property in society as they beat out
their competitors. Over time this group grows smaller and richer
2. Consists of employed and unemployed wage laborers and this group keeps getting larger and
poorer as mechanization increases unemployment and real wages decrease because the supply of labor
exceeds the demand for it
- Marx called this the contradiction within capitalism, which acts as a hindrance to further development
of the material forces of production
Marx on Crime, Criminal Law, & Criminal Justice
- Argued that it was essential to human nature that people be productive in life and work, but in
industrialized capitalist societies, the large numbers of unemployed and underemployed people are
unproductive and become demoralized, making them subject to all forms of crime and vice
- Called these demoralized people the lumpenproletariat
- Argued against the philosophy 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
- Said this view ignored that fact that an unequal distribution of wealth in a society produced an
unequal distribution of power
- Those with no wealth have no power, those with wealth can control the social contract to
represent their own interests
- He saw crime as the struggle of the isolated individual against the prevailing conditions
- Marx wrote several articles on the theft of wood in Germany around 1840
- the nobility had the right to hunt and chase in the forest, while peasants had the right to
collect forest products such as wood
- When the value of wood increased, a number of laws passed that took away the rights of the
peasants and defined taking wood from the forest as a crime
- Marx argued that the true state would uphold the rights of all citizens, but these laws
represented the interests only of the forest owners
- He later argued that the economic basis of capitalism rested on a similar theft of the traditional rights
of the peasants
- Prior to capitalism, many peasants were independent producers with hereditary rights to the
use of state-owned, church-owned or commonly held lands
- Their rights were taken away, their ways of earning a living were determined as illegal, and the
lands they had used were turned over to private capitalists, because of this many of them became
beggars, vagabonds or formed bands of robbers
- Those methods were deemed as criminal, so peasants were forced to become wage laborers
working for capitalists
- Marx argued the economic basis of capitalism had been established by a theft accomplished
through the coercive power of the criminal law
The Emergence of Marxist Criminology
- Bonger argued that the capitalist economic system encouraged people to be greedy and selfish and to
pursue their own benefits without regard for the welfare of others
- Crime is concentrated in the lower classes because the criminal justice system criminalizes the greed of
the poor while it allows legal opportunities for the rich to pursue their selfish desires
- Bonger argued a socialist society would 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
- Marxist criminology in the 1970s was connected with the radical social climate of that time, and these
versions of Marxist criminology portrayed criminals in terms of Marx’s primitive rebellion thesis – that
criminals were engaged in crime as an unconscious form of rebellion against the capitalist economic
- The 1970s produced instrumentalist views of the criminal justice system that the enactment and
enforcement of criminal laws are solely the instruments of a unified and monolithic ruling class that
conspires to seek its own advantage at the expense of other groups
- Block & Chanbliss criticized these early theories for:
- Their simplistic portrayal of the ruling class as a unified, monolithic elite
- The argument that the enactment and enforcement of laws reflects only the interests of the
ruling class
- The argument that criminal acts are a political response to conditions of oppression and
- Greensberg said these theories ignored studies that showed:
- Widespread consensus on legal definition of crime
- That underprivileged people are most frequently victims of crime by other underprivileged
people, so that they have an interest in the enforcement of criminal laws
- It’s unrealistic to expect that crime will be eliminated in socialist societies
Marxist Theory & Research on Crime
- By the mid-1970s a new and rigorous Marxist criminology began to take shape, which attempted 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 studies for support, since only in such
studies can societies with different political economies be prepared
- In this view, the primary function of the state is to ensure that the social relations of capitalism persist
in the long run
- This goal requires that many different interests be served at different times, in order to
prevent the rise of conditions that will lead to the collapse of capitalism