The Marxist Theory of Criminology


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A presentation I made for my class on criminology.

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The Marxist Theory of Criminology

  1. 1. The Marxist Theory of Criminology Phil Vollman
  2. 2. Who?
  3. 3. Who was Karl Marx?● Eric Fromm writes in the foreword to Karl Marx: Early Writings that "Marx was a humanist...[who]...believed in the unity of all men, and in mans capacity to find a new harmony with man and with nature."● Oxford References entry for Karl Marx is: ○ "(1818–83) German political philosopher and economist, resident in England from 1849. The founder of modern communism, he collaborated with Engels in the writing of the Communist Manifesto (1848). Thereafter Marx spent much of his time enlarging the theory of this pamphlet into a series of books, the most important being the three-volume Das Kapital. The first volume of this appeared in 1867 and the remainder was completed by Engels and published after Marxs death (1885; 1894)."
  4. 4. Who Propagated the Marxist Theory of Criminology?● Richard Quinney ○ Quinneys contribution to the Marxist Theory of Criminology is the idea that the studies done by "traditional" criminologists are done to serve the interests of the bourgeoisie are invalid. I felt that much of what he posited reflected the overall ideology of the Marxist Theory of Criminology, which suggests that he played a major role in shaping its tenets and bringing Marxian analysis to criminology.● Steven Spitzer ○ Wrote about the idea of a "Marxian theory of deviance," which became the model explanation for criminal behavior among Marxist criminologists.Spitzers papers did not focus on the origins of crime in the trouble populations of revolutionaries, youth gangs, and the unemployed, but instead chose to talk about what he felt were the hypocritical aspects of capitalism that cause criminality. Spitzer posits that the existence of capitalism causes crime, while failing to address how each group of criminal comes to be involved in their crimes● David Greenburg ○ Posited a theory of juvenile delinquency that, although now seen as lacking empirical data to back it up, helped to establish the Marxist Theory of Criminology as less of a Marxist means of influencing criminal justice policy, and more of an approach to looking at crime influenced by the works of Marx. Greenburg is not a vanguard of the Marxist Theory of Criminology, but rather someone who, by virtue of his liminality, allows for ideas from "traditional" criminology and Marxist criminology to coalesce.
  5. 5. Who was affected by the Marxist Theory of Criminology?● Academics who support the Marxist Theory of Criminology believe that it needs to be applied in every instance it can be, so as to further the destruction of capitalism.● Based on prior knowledge and some searches of academic articles, I can posit that there is a causal relationship of some sort between the Marxist Theory of Criminology and reparative/restorative justice, which is a system of criminal justice in which both the needs of the victim and the offender are considered when passing judgement, and there is often an emphasis on mediation between people and a focus on forgiveness and fair sentencing.● Reading the article, I felt like there were similarities between the idea of the unemployment-prison relationship and the school-to- prison pipeline, although I feel that the latter is much more based in reality.
  6. 6. What?
  7. 7. What is the Marxist Theory of Criminology?● I have not seen a good definition of the Marxist Theory of Criminology, so I am adding my own: ○ The Marxist Theory of Criminology is an academic understanding of the origins of, classifications for, punishment of, and ramifications of crime; crime that is caused by the struggle between two groups of people. One group currently has the power and owns the means of labor. The other group is comprised of the workers, and they have no power in a system where the elite create laws and patterns of justice that are used to oppress the workers. It is the hope of the elite that, by oppressing the workers, they will not be able to rise up and overthrow the elite. In the event that such a revolution takes place, a new system would be put in place wherein government would be needless and there would be no crime, because there would be only one class, the workers, and there would be no oppression.
  8. 8. What is the Conflict Theory of Criminology?● The Sage Dictionary of Criminology declares that ○ "Conflict theory is usually contrasted with positivism or those theories that assume that a basic consensus exists in society. It has taken three major forms. Culture conflict theory focuses on clashes between conduct norms. Group conflict theory relates such clashes directly to the position of elites and the wielding of political power. Class conflict theory views power differentials in the context of the systematic generation of structured inequalities in capitalist societies. All stress that to understand crime we must also understand the interests served by criminal law and the way in which those in authority use their power."● In my own words, I would say that the conflict theory of criminology is an academic understanding of crime in which crime is caused by either the disenfranchisement of a class of people by a class in power (which then causes anger and strife), the inability of people to reconcile ideological differences or cultural norms in an already charged society, and a system in place that pits people and groups against one another.
  9. 9. What are the tenets of the Marxist Theory of Criminology?● The proletariat must rise up against the bourgeoisie, either violently overthrowing them to create a utopian society ruled by all people, yet with no laws and protections for individuals. Alternatively, as some academics posited, the proletariat must otherthrow the bourgeoisie and institute a government that is a true socialist democracy.● Either the bourgeoisie is actively working to set laws in place that oppress the proletariat (instrumentalist), or the structure of society created to keep the bourgeoisie in power rarely allows for equal justice to be meted out (structuralist), even if laws are made to counteract the status quo of the criminal justice system.● The bourgeoisie will create crimes that target the proletariat, or put in place systems, such as the unemployment-prison relationship, that work economic injustice on the proletariat.
  10. 10. What are criticisms of the Marxist Theory of Criminology?● Comparing an existing nations society or government to a utopian dream for the future will always make the former look corrupt and awful.● Marxist revisionist analysis of history often overlooks the successes of Western society.● There is a divide between academic Marxist theory and the actual structure of the criminal justice systems of countries that are or have been Communist such as China, Cuba, North Korea, or Russia.
  11. 11. Where?
  12. 12. Where was the academic discourse about the Marxist Theory of Criminology taking place?
  13. 13. When?
  14. 14. When was the Marxist Theory of Criminology first posited?● In 1916, Willem Bonger wrote that he felt the cause of crime was a society that organized itself around capitalism. Such a society encouraged greed and selfishness in both the haves and the have-nots. However, it is the have-nots, the proletariat, that are punished for their actions. The breakdown of society results in those who are the least powerful bearing the brunt of both the decay of society and the subsequent rise in crime that results.● Bongers explanation for crime was not accepted in its time and only became popular in the 1970s.
  15. 15. What is the Relationship between the Cold War Era and the Marxist Theory of Criminology?This was not expanded upon in the article. However, I see by glancing at the facultypages, CV, and obituaries for the 21 academics in the article that the authors of thearticles written in the 1990s are baby boomers. They would have lived in the ColdWar era, and probably would have read A Peoples History Of The United States(Zinn) in the 1980s. I saw that some of these academics were members ofprogressive groups like the Green Party or Democracy Now!Having seen little evidence of academic discourse in regards to Communistcriminology on either American or Russian shores, I feel that these academics arenot so much drawing from the modern applications of Marxism, but rathereschewing the violent nature of Communism in favor of a more academic but noless urgent discourse.So, I see that these academics have been influence by the Cold War; they havelived through and experienced the US response to the USSR, and they at somepoint rejected the idea that any form of governance associated with a communiststate is invalid and evil. Those academics most vehemently in support of the MarxistTheory of Criminology are revisionists, and members of an academiccounterculture.
  16. 16. Is the Marxist Theory of Criminology Active Today?● In academic circles, there will always be discussions about the Marxist Theory of Criminology. And search results on Google Scholar for the phrase "Marxist Criminology" returned 154 results for the 1990s, 176 for the 2000s, and 28 results for articles written between 2011 and 2012.● Since 2004, Google Trends reports that most searches for "marxist criminology" have come from the United Kingdom. A great deal of searches for "criminology" are actually searches for criminal justice classes and online degrees.● There have been only two trending results for "marxist theory" in Google News since 2008, and one has to do with Barack Obama, the other with China. This, to me, suggests that implementation of policies based on the Marxist Theory of Criminology has been low to non-existent in the United States.
  17. 17. Why?
  18. 18. Why did the Marxist Theory of Criminology supplant the Conflict Theory of Criminology in the 1970s?● The Marxist Theory of Criminology filled a void that was created when academics such as Ian Taylor found "traditional" ways of looking at crime to be an inadequate means for studying crime in the modern era.● I feel that the theories of crime that existed before the Marxist Theory of Criminology always put some sort of blame on the criminal. Even a theory of crime that posits that overwhelming external forces cause people to crime are at fault, these academics may have felt that even those theories did not account for what they felt was the systematic oppression of the lower classes. Combined with the inability of some of these theories to explain white collar crime, the Marxist Theory of Criminology seemed like a reasonable theory to study and follow because it placed blame on a system that some of these academics were already at odds with.● The Marxist Theory of Criminology had to be retooled by academic such as Michael Lynch and David Greenberg to make it less simplistic and violent and more compatible and amenable to the society and government of the United States. These changes allowed for the Marxist Theory of Criminology to at least be an option when discussions of criminal justice policy took place, as opposed to an anathema.
  19. 19. Why is learning about Marxist Criminology important?● It in the context of this survey class, I believe we can take away an understanding of the gulf between academic discourse about a subject and the actual policies put in place that supposedly reflect said discourse can be very wide. Surely there were Russian academics prior to the Russian Revolution whose ideas were used by Lenin and Stalin as evidence that the gulags and executions in Soviet Russia were necessary and beneficial to the formation of the utopian Soviet state that never was.● Learning about a minority viewpoint can tell us much about the majority viewpoint, especially if we look at the instances and circumstances in which a once minority idea was taken in by a ruling ideology.
  20. 20. Works CitedAkers, Ronald L., and Christine Sharon. Sellers. "Marxist and Critical Theories."Criminological Theories: Introduction, Evaluation, and Application. New York:Oxford UP, 2009. 217-44. Print.Marx, Karl, and T. B. Bottomore. Karl Marx: Early Writings. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964. Print.McLaughlin, Eugene, and John Muncie. The Sage Dictionary of Criminology.London: Sage, 2006. Print.Wright, Edmund. "Karl Marx." A Dictionary of World History. 2006. Print.
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