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The Conflict Perspective


Several related theories fall under the conflict perspective outlined in . Although they all have something to say about why people commit crime, their major focus is on the use and misuse of the criminal law and criminal justice system to deal with crime. Three branches of the conflict perspective exist in the study of crime and criminal justice.

The first branch is called group conflict theory, which assumes that criminal law is shaped by the conflict among the various social groups in society that exist because of differences in race and ethnicity, social class, religion, and other factors. Given that these groups compete for power and influence, the groups with more power and influence try to pass laws that ban behaviors in which subordinate groups tend to engage, and they try to use the criminal justice system to suppress subordinate group members. A widely cited historical example of this view is Prohibition, which was the result of years of effort by temperance advocates, most of them from white, Anglo-Saxon, rural, and Protestant backgrounds, to ban the manufacture, sale, and use of alcohol. Although these advocates thought alcohol use was a sin and incurred great social costs, their hostility toward alcohol was also motivated by their hostility toward the types of people back then who tended to use alcohol: poor, urban, Catholic immigrants. Temperance advocates’ use of legal means to ban alcohol was, in effect, a “symbolic crusade” against people toward whom these advocates held prejudicial attitudes (Gusfield, 1963). [13]

The second branch of the conflict perspective is called radical theory. Radical theory makes the same general assumptions as group conflict theory about the use of criminal law and criminal justice, but with one key difference: It highlights the importance of (economic) social class more than the importance of religion, ethnicity, and other social group characteristics. In this way, radical theory evokes the basic views of Karl Marx on the exploitation and oppression of the poor and working class by the ruling class (Lynch & Michalowski, 2006). [14]

An early but still influential radical explanation of crime was presented by Dutch criminologist Willem Bonger (1916). [15] Bonger blamed the high US crime rate on its economic system, capitalism. As an economic system, he said, capitalism emphasizes the pursuit of profit. Yet, if someone gains profit, someone else is losing it. This emphasis on self-gain, he said, creates an egoistic culture in which people look out for themselves and are ready and even willing to act in a way that disadvantages other people. Amid such a culture, he said, crime is an inevitable outcome. Bonger thought crime would be lower in socialist societies because they place more emphasis on the welfare of one’s group than on individual success.

Feminist approaches comprise the third branch of the conflict perspective on the study of crime and criminal justice. Several such approaches exist, but they generally focus on at least one of four areas: (1) the reasons girls and women commit crime; (2) the reasons female crime is lower than male crime; (3) the victimization of girls and women by rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence; and (4) the experience of women professionals and offenders in the criminal justice system.

Regarding the first area, the research generally finds that girls and women commit crime for the same reasons that boys and men commit crime: poverty, parental upbringing, and so forth. But it also finds that both women and men “do gender” when they commit crime. That is, they commit crime according to gender roles, at least to some extent. Thus one study found that women robbers tend to rob other women and not to use a gun when they do so (J. Miller & Brunson, 2000). [16]

In addressing the second area, on why female crime is less common than male crime, scholars often cite two reasons discussed earlier: gender role socialization and gender-based differences in parental supervision. One additional reason derives from social bonding theory: Girls feel closer to their parents than boys do, and thus are less delinquent (Lanctôt & Blanc, 2002). [17]

We have already commented on the victimization of women from rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence, but the study of this topic began with work by feminist criminologists during the 1970s. Since that time, innumerable works have addressed this type of victimization, which is also thought to contribute to girls’ delinquency and, more generally, female drug and alcohol abuse (Chesney-Lind & Jones, 2010). [18]

The final area for feminist work addresses women professionals and offenders in the criminal justice system. This body of research certainly goes beyond the scope of this book, but it documents the many blatant and subtle forms of discrimination that women face as police, attorneys, judges, prison guards, and other professionals (Muraskin, 2012).[19] A primary task of research on women offenders is to determine how they fare in the criminal justice system compared to male offenders. Studies tend to find that females receive somewhat more lenient treatment than males for serious offenses and somewhat harsher treatment for minor offenses, although some studies conclude that gender does not make too much of a difference one way or the other (Chesney-Lind & Pasko, 2004). [20]


KEY TAKEAWAYS


  • Social structure theories stress that crime results from economic and other problems in how society is structured and from poverty and other problems in neighborhoods.

  • Interactionist theories stress that crime results from our interaction with family members, peers, and other people, and from labeling by the criminal justice system.

  • Conflict theories stress that social groups with power and influence try to use the law and criminal justice system to maintain their power and to keep other groups at the bottom of society.



FOR YOUR REVIEW


  1. What are any two criminogenic (crime-causing) social or physical characteristics of urban neighborhoods?

  2. According to labeling theory, why are arrest and imprisonment sometimes counterproductive?

[1] Shaw, C. R., & McKay, H. D. (1942). Juvenile delinquency and urban areas. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

[2] Mazerolle, L., Wickes, R., & McBroom, J. (2010). Community variations in violence: The role of social ties and collective efficacy in comparative context. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 47(1), 3–30.

[3] Merton, R. K. (1938). Social structure and anomie. American Sociological Review, 3, 672–682.

[4] Miller, J. M., Schreck, C. J., & Tewksbury, R. (2011). Criminological theory: A brief introduction (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

[5] Sutherland, E. H. (1947). Principles of criminology (4th ed.). Philadelphia, PA: J. P. Lippincott.

[6] Akers, R. L., & Sellers, C. S. (2009). Criminological theories: Introduction, evaluation, and application (5th ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

[7] Hirschi, T. (1969). Causes of delinquency. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

[8] Bohm, R. M., & Vogel, B. (2011). A primer on crime and delinquency theory (3rd ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

[9] Piquero, A. R., Farrington, D. P., Welsh, B. C., Tremblay, R., & Jennings, W. (2009). Effects of early family/parent training programs on antisocial behavior and delinquency. Journal of Experimental Criminology 5, 83–120; Welsh, B. C., & Farrington, D. P. (2007). Save children from a life of crime. Criminology & Public Policy, 6(4), 871–879.

[10] Desmond, S. A., Soper, S. E., & Purpura, D. J. (2009). Religiosity, moral beliefs, and delinquency: Does the effect of religiosity on delinquency depend on moral beliefs?Sociological Spectrum, 29, 51–71.

[11] Barkan, S. E. (2006). Religiosity and premarital sex during adulthood. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 45, 407–417.

[12] Nagin, D. S., Cullen, F. T., & Jonson, C. L. (2009). Imprisonment and reoffending. Crime and Justice: A Review of Research, 38, 115–200.

[13] Gusfield, J. R. (1963). Symbolic crusade: Status politics and the American temperance movement. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.

[14] Lynch, M. J., & Michalowski, R. J. (2006). Primer in radical criminology: Critical perspectives on crime, power and identity (4th ed.). Monsey, NY: Criminal Justice Press.

[15] Bonger, W. (1916). Criminality and economic conditions (H. P. Horton, Trans.). Boston, MA: Little, Brown.

[16] Miller, J., & Brunson, R. K. (2000). Gender dynamics in youth gangs: A comparison of males’ and females’ accounts. Justice Quarterly, 17, 419–448.

[17] Lanctôt, N., & Blanc, M. L. (2002). Explaining deviance by adolescent females. Crime and Justice: A Review of Research, 29, 113–202.

[18] Chesney-Lind, M., & Jones, N. (Eds.). (2010). Fighting for girls: New perspectives on gender and violence. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

[19] Muraskin, R. (Ed.). (2012). Women and justice: It’s a crime (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

[20] Chesney-Lind, M., & Pasko, L. (2004). The female offender: Girls, women, and crime (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.


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