Marxist Theories of Crime – A Summary

Introduction/ The basics

  • Traditional Marxist theories explain crime in relation to power inequalities created by the capitalist system

  • The inequalities and injustices within Capitalism generate crime.

  • Class based analysis – both classes commit crime, the crimes of the elite are more harmful

  • The Bourgeoisie h- have economic power and because of this control the criminal justice system – they defined their own harmful acts as legal and are less likely to be prosecuted for the crimes they commit.

  • Historical Period (for Marxist Criminology) The 1970s

Crimogenic Capitalism

  • Crime is a consequence of the economic structure of capitalism
  • Capitalism is harsh, exploitative and breeds inequality, materialism and selfishness, which combined make crime in Capitalist societies inevitable.
  • See David Gordon’s work on the ‘Dog eat Dog’ society

The Elite Make the Law in Their Own Interests

  • William Chambliss: At the heart of the capitalist system lies the protection of private property
  • Laureen Snider – Many nation states are reluctant to pass laws which restrict the freedom of Transnational Corporations to make profit
  • There is unequal access to the law – the more money you have, the better lawyer you can get
  • Harmful and exploitative acts in capitalist systems are not formally labelled criminal if these harmful activities make a profit – e.g. Colonialism/ Numerous Wars/ Pollution.

All Classes Commit Crime and the Crimes of the Powerful are of particular interest to Marxist Criminologists

  • White Collar Crime = Individual middle class/ elite crime within a company , Corporate = Institutional crime

  • Typical e.g’s include various types of fraud and negligence regarded health and safety at work.

  • The economic costs of Corporate Crime are greater than street crime (Laureen Snider/ Corporate Watch.

  • High profile Corporate Crimes = Bernie Madhoff, the Enron $100bn fraud and the 20 000 dead people as a result of Union Carbide’s corporate negligence in Bhopal, India.

  • Despite being more costly to society, the crimes of the elite tend to go unpunished – As research by Tombs and Whyte suggests

The ideological functions of selective law enforcement

According to Gordon ‘selective law enforcement’ benefits the Capitalist system in three major ways:

  • we ignore the failings of the system that lead to the conditions of inequality which generate crime.

  • The imprisonment of selected members of the lower classes neutralises opposition to the system.

  • sweeps out of sight the ‘worst jetsam of Capitalist society’ such that we cannot see it.

Overall Evaluations of Subcultural Theories of Crime

Positive Negative
  • Dog eat Dog explains both WC and Elite crime
  • TTIP is good supporting evidence for point 2

    not lone individuals

  • Lots of case studies and stats support the view that Corporate Crimes are harmful – Bhopal!
  • Tombs and Whyte’s research – strongly supports point 3
X – Crime has been decreasing in the UK in the last 20 years, yet we’re increasingly ‘neoliberal’

X – Crime existed before Capitalism and in Communist societies

X – Recent research shows that the underclass doesn’t really exist and working class culture is more complex

X – Consensus theories argue most people today have private property, so most people are protected by the law

X – It’s unfair to compare corporate crime such as Fraud to street crime, the later has a more emotional toll.

X – Some Corporate Crminals are punished (e.g. Madhoff)

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One Response to Marxist Theories of Crime – A Summary

  1. Pingback: Key Concepts for A Level Sociology – Crime and Deviance | ReviseSociology

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