Notes from textbook:
Strain Theories (consensus and Conflict Approach)
(Strain theory is when people are exposed to cultural goals they are unable to reach
with the means they are provided with, ex. Going to university if you are poor)
What is Anomie Theory?
-Term founded by Emile Durkheim
- Used to describe an absence of clear societal norms
- Merton used this to describe the phenomena of people adopting deviant means to
achieve goals beyond their means
- self- interest rather than societal norms control behaviors
- Used to explain dictatorship countries
Examples, robbing a bank to buy a sports car you cant afford.
Merton and Durkheim
- believed crime was a gap between cultural prescribed aspirations and the means
for attaining those aspirations.
- in American, they argued these are attaining money and status that rsults from
- not being able to attain there causes strain
Main theorists in social strain theory and Anomie:
- Emile Durkheim
- Robert Merton
- doesn’t elp us explain lower crime rates of women
- only helps us explain higher crime rates of marginalized people or communities
- he only takes into account difference of opportunity that arise from social class…
what about gender?
Modern Day use:
- used to study material wealth in todays society
- study where wallets were lost with $50 in them … 44% of wallets disappeared by
In Denmark and Norway all the wallets were returned.. does every different society
create a climate that produces more good Samaritans than others ?
- crime like any social behavior is learned in association with others
- you are who you regularly associate with
- you learn relevant skills of committing crimes and ideas and ways of justifying it.
The Consensus Approach: What is Consensus approach?
- also known as functionalism
-believe family, education, government, religion and economy all contribute to the
normal running of society. Crime occurs when something unusual happens to the
flow of these things mentioned, this results in strain, stress and frustration.
- believes that maintaining a certain state of society is the common interest of all
- Believes law represents the consensus of people
- Law is a codification of values shared by most members of society
-Society agrees that certain acts should be prohibited by criminal law.
- Support for consensus theory is that there is a broad agreement that many laws
particularly regarding street crime such as robbery burglary and murder should be
prohibited by law.
- these laws only look out for a small interest group (powerful and wealthy; those
powerful enough to shape the laws made)
History of Consensus Approach:
- Many European settlers in the United States were puritans who left England for the
colony of Massachusetts so they could be free to practice their own religious beliefs
- Some capital crime was idolatry, witchcraft etc.
- This shows how values or religious values become codified in law
The Conflict Approach:
What is the conflict approach?
- questions assumptions of the consensus theory; says laws reflect the interests of
the groups that create and enforce those laws .
- argues consensus protects not the majority but rather the most powerful.
- These theorists don’t not think that this reflects a consensus of the members of
society. This is majorly outlines in the class conflict theorists work.
- They believe laws are passed by ruling class to maintain their privileged position
by keeping the common people under control.
- Activities that threaten those in power are viewed as illegal
- These laws benefit the powerful at the expense of the average folk/ the poor.
Historical Use of Conflict Approach:
- An example of this is Reed using the legal system to control the number of
aboriginals people moving around who he believed presented a threat to those
- Another example is the one mentioned in class where the king had to protect the
goods his carrier was transporting to the merchants… The famous carrier case
- The law that protected your goods, services and property was created to protect
the merchant class from being robbed. Cultural Conflict Theory:
- when individuals act on norms of their group which are in direct violation of the
norms of a dominant group
Group Conflict Theory:
- interests groups or social groupings attempt to protect their own interests by
influencing the creation or enforcement of criminal laws.
- outlined in Quinneys Propositions
Quinney’s Conflict theory of crime:
- quinney presents 6 (5) propositions hat outline his conflict theory of crime
- Easiest way to look at Quinney is like a chemistry experiment
- he has a proposition he puts forward and then proofs to prove the propositions
Proposition 1: crime is a definition of human conduct that is created by authorized
agents In a politically organized society.
- therefore one cause of crime is the law
- this proposition shows a radical side of Quinney
- this theory rejects consensus theory and the theory of universalism
(FILL IN FROM LECTURE NOTES )
Proposition 2: Criminal definitions describe behaviors that conflict with segments of
society that have the power to shape public policy
- in other words you are criminal or delinquent if you engage in activity that is
frowned upon by people of higher power.
- political scientists have documented the role of the powerful interest in the
formulation of laws
- laws are formulated to protect the powerful
- laws support the interest of some at the expense of the other, therefore this is not
consensus at all
- these interests can be political, economic, religious, educational or public.
- Quinney goes on to talk about the criminal person but also how it is linked to the
law and how the law is created and enforced.
- Quinney shows that criminal law is largely and elite enterprise… use to protect the
elite from the middle and lower class of society
- conflict theorists use this to argue that laws are not universal and interest and
- an example Is Sunday laws. Catholic Religion was and still is dominant in society
and we see this with store hours ect. Proposition 3: Criminal definitions are applied by the segments of society that have
to power to enforce the administration of criminal law
- this is the application of criminal definitions
- applying and enforcing the laws… not the creation of them
- he argues that in Canadian society its impossible to have full enforcement of all
laws because we don’t have the resources to do so.
- Not enough police officers, jail cells ect.
- enforcement also varies if you live in a rural area versus city
- also varies in terms of police culture or race
- Parole versus Probation
- you are eligible for parole if your sentence is more than 6 months in length
- you go to federal jail if your sentence is more than two years
- provincial jail if your sentence is two years less a day
Proposition 4: Behvaior patters are structured segmentaly organized society in
relation to criminal defintions and within this contect persons engage in actions that
have probabilities in being defines as criminal
- development of behvaiour patters is related to criminal defintions
- your social organization
- different probabilities of becoming criminal
- rates of crime vary by social organization (Sutherland)
- there are three social factors of being defined criminal which make up a
1. Age sex structure:
- age 15-25
-male ( males as mentioned before or more risk takers, more aggressive)
2. Social class structure:
- people of lower classes over represented in jails
- people locked up usually come from socially disorganized backgrounds
- particularly lower class gangs, young men of colour ect.
- higher law enforcement for these men
3. Ethic Racial Structure of society
- people of colour arrested 3-4x more that white people
- people of colour also likely tobe denied bail
- aboriginal 30x more likely to be arrested
- these three factors act together to create the stereotypical criminal (young male of
colour in a lower class position)
Ecology of behavior theory:
- also supports Quinneys fourth proposition
- higher crime rate in lower class living areas
- mostly property crime
- gang formations emerge in relation to economic and racial composition Proposition 5: :( construction of criminal conceptions) Conceptions of crime are
constructed and diffused in the segments of society by various means of
- Quinney is a social construct, believed crime was constructed and created in a
politically structured environment, not universal
- desire for material success in market economy
Critique of Quinney
- criminal law is not always opposed to the interests of the poor and powerless ( in
most cases it is but not always)
- failed to specify conditions
- overly determinist position
- symbolic effect of the law is important, its moral aspect is important to public (
- importance of individual psychology downplayed ( especially family dynamics ) an
example of sex offenders
Crime and Sex:
- men are a lot more involved with crime over women
- 77% of all cases inv