Crime and Deviance: Class. power and crime

Explaining class differences in crime

Official statistics show the WC are more lkely to than higher classes to offend

Functionalism: Crime is the product of inadequate socialisation into a shared culture. 

  • Miller: the lower class has an independent subculture opposed to mainstream culture and explains higher crime rate

Merton's Strain theory: Class structure denies WC people opportunitiies to achieve legitimately so they resort to utilitarian crime

Cohen's Subculture theories: WC youths are as culturally depried and unable to achieve in education. Failure gives rise to status frustration. 

  • Cloward and Ohlin identifies three deviant subcultures: conflict, criminal and retreatist

Labelling theory: rejects official statistics as they are not a valid picture of which class commits the most crime. They focus on law enforcement agencies, which have the power to label to WC as criminals. 

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Marxism, class and crime

Marxists agree that the law is enforced mainly against the WC and official statistics are flawed. 

  • Criticises labelling theory for ignoring the structure of capitalism 
  • Marxism is a structural theory: the structure of capitalism explains crime

Crimonegenic capitalism: Crime is inevitable in capitalism because it's very nature causes crime

  • WC crime: Capitalism is baed on the exploitation of the WC for profit, as a result
    • Poverty may mean crime is the only way some can survive consuming goods encouraged by capitalist advertising, resulting in utilitarian crime. e.g. theft.
    • Alienation may cause frustration and aggression, leading to non-utilitarian crimes e.g.violence and vadalism

Ruling class crime: Capitalism is a win-it-all costs system of competition. This encourages capitalists to commit coporate crime e.g. tax evasions, breaking health and safety laws. 

Marxism is too deterministic and over-predicts WC crime: not all poor people commit crime. Not all capitalist countries have a high crime rate. e.g. Japan

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Marxism, class and crime / 2

The state and law making

  • Law making and enforcement serves the interest of the capitalist class. 
  • Chambliss: the laws to protect private property are the bais of capitalist economy.
  • The RC also have the power to prevent the introduction of laws harmful to their interets.
  • Few laws challenge the unequal distribution of wealth.

Selective enforcement: all classes commit crime, there is a selective enforcement of the law

  • Reiman: crimes of the powerful are much likely to be treated at criminal offences and prosecuted. 
  • Carson: a sample of 200 firms found all hadbroken health and safety laws but only 1.5% were prosecuted
  • There is a much higher rate of prosecution for the crimes of the poor

Ideologcal functions of crime and law: some laws benefit the WC. e.g. health and safety.

  • Pearce: Giving a 'caring' face gives false consciousness
  • Selective enforcement distorts crime statistic by making crime appear largely WC. Shifts attention from more serious RC crime. 
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Neo-Marxism: Critical criminology

Walton and Young agrees with traditional marixsts:

  • Capitalism is based on exploitation and inequalty
  • State makes and enforces laws in the interest of capitalism and criminalises the WC
  • Capitalism sould be replaced by a classless society which would reduce crime
  • However, Taylor criticises TM for its determinism; e.g. it sees workers as driven to commit but r
  • eject this with theories that claim crime is caused by external factors such as anomie, block opportunities.

Voluntarism: the idea that we have free will - Crime is a consious choice with a political motive e.g. to redistribute wealth from the rich and to the poor. Criminals are deliberately struggling to change society. 

A full social theory of deviance: a comprehensive theory that would help to change society for the better. 

  • Ideas about the unequal opportunities of wealth who has the power to make and enforce the law
  • Labelling theory ideas about the meaning of the deviant act for the actor, societal reactions to it, and the effects of the deviant label on the individual. 
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Crimes of the powerful

The law is selectively enforced and higher-cass and corporate offenders are less likely to be proecuted.

  • White collar crimes: Sutherland - crime committed by a personal of high status in the course of his occupation e.g.
    • Occupational crime: commited by employeed for perosonal gain e.g. stealing from the company
    • Corporate crime: commited for the company's benefits e.g. increase its benefits

The scale of corporate crime - CC does more harm than 'ordinary' crime. 

  • Financial crimes e.g. tax evasion
  • Crimes against consumers e.g. selling unfit goods
  • Crimes against employees e.g. breaking health and safety laws


  • Feminists criticise both Marxists and Neo-Marxists for being 'gender blind'.
  • Left realists criticise Neo-Marxism for romanticising WC criminals as 'Robin Hoods' fighting for capitalism
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Crimes of the powerful / 2

The Abuse of Trust

  • Professionals occupy positions of trust and respectibaility that give them the opporunity to violate this trust e.g. accountabts have been involved in tax fraud and money laundering
  • Sutherland: White collar crime makes a greater threat to society than WC 'street' crime. 
    • It promotes distrusts of key insitutions and undermines fabric of society

The Inevitability of Corporate Crime: CC is often invisible as it is not seen as 'real' crime

  • The media: gives limites coverage to CC and often describes it as techinal infringements. Reinforces stereotypes that crime is a WC phenomenom
  • Lack of political will to tackle CC
  • CC is complex: Law enforcers are under resources and lack technical expertise to investigate effectively
  • De-labelling: offences are often defined as civil, penalties are ften fines, not jail time
  • Under-reporting: The victim is sociwty at large tather than a particular indivdual. Victims may not know they have been victimised, not regard it as 'real' crime, or feel powerless and not report the offence. 
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Explanations of corporate crime

Merton's strain theory

  • If a company cannot achieve its goal by legal means, it may employ illegal ones instead
  • Research shows that companies' law violation increased as their profitability declined

Differential association - Sutherland: Crime as socially learned behaviour. If a company's deviant subculture justifies committing crime, employees will be socialised into criminility. Learning techniques of neutralisation. 

Labelling theory: Companies have the power to avoid labelling e.g. hiring expensive lawyers. The inability of enforcement agences to investigate effectively also reduces the number of offences officially labelled

Marxism: CC is a result from the normal functioning of capitalism. 

  • Capitalism goals are to maximise profits, it causes harm e.g. to employees and consumers.
  • Capitalism creates ideology that CC is less widespread or harmful than WC crime. It also controls the state, so it can avoid making laws that confluct with its interests. 
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