Conflict/Marxist Theory –Vold distinguishes between Marxist and Conflict perspectives, and lumps “post-modern” perspectives in with Conflict. Explain the differences between these two “critical” views of crime, particularly on the issue of social power (be sure to include Sellin, Vold, Quinney, Black, Chambliss & Seidman). How does one go about “testing” conflict theory? What, according to Vold et. al are the limitations of Conflict Theory? Finally, Post-Modern theory suggests that “domination” lies at the root of both violence and punishment.
Explain this. Marxist theory is a theory based on economic oppression by capitalist structures and institutions. Marxism states that conflict between those in society who own production vs those in society who are distributed the products, is the means by which conflict emerges. However, Vold distinguishes between the two by defining Conflict theory as collective groups, of similar values and interests, fighting with others in society over control.
The distinction between these two theories is that conflict theory ignores where the sources of power that create societies inequality are derived from, whereas Marxist theorists clearly place that blame on capitalism. Lumping in “post-modern” perspective with conflict is just the pushing of the postmodern theory that power is derived through the use of language to establish dominance. Conflict occurs when a system like criminal justice, all of which creates an uneven balance between the system and criminals.
How this is all related to social power is that conflict theory pushes the perspective that social power is obtained by the most powerful group or groups who then use the system, the law, to legitimize their power. Marxist Theory then uses this same perspective, but ask the question of how this power is derived, and for Marxists, it’s through capitalism. Those who own the most in terms of societal production, control more and more concentrated wealth and power through a capitalist system of economics.
Social power for Marx is this imbalance, and how the growing collective of wage workers is slowly overtaken by a smaller and smaller class of powerbrokers. Thorsten Sellin’s view was focused on what he believed created conflict which is called “conduct norms. ” These norms are rules established by the dominant culture that mandate that you act in certain ways, dictated in certain situations, and only apply to certain types of people. In complex societies, the overlapping of different values creates what he referred to as “primary cultural conflicts. ” The conflicts re created when the outermost parts of these cultures fight over territory as they encroach on one another.
“Secondary cultural conflicts” are the production of sub-cultures by these competing primary cultures, and the culture with the dominant status controls the norms society reflects. Vold’s perspective is that of a “social process” in which society is viewed as a vast collective of groups bonded by a dynamic equilibrium of divergent efforts and societal interests. So consensus among all these conflicting groups at some point is adjusted till the right amount of balance and control is achieved.
However, it is a very uneasy and ever-shifting balance of many strengths and weaknesses. Richard Quinney is known for “the social reality of crime” which consists of segments of society that are connected by shared norms and values, but not organized in any way. Vold excluded impulsive and irrational acts of crime, whereas Quinney looked to explain not just some, but all criminality. His view was that these irrational and impulsive people represented a segment of society, but this segment is not organized in its struggles like with Vold and Marx.
Irrational acts of crime are committed in this “social reality of crime”, because of it serving the self-interest of an individual that is indicative in others in society with that same self-interest. Now Donald Black’s theory is “the behavior of law” in which he examines and explains the changes in the style of the law and the quantity to which it is used. Much broader than that of conflict theory, Black’s “the quantity of law” is indicative of governmental social controls, and the “style of the law” is indicative of the way in which justice for society is achieved.
The quantity of law changes in the setting you are in, and can be more or less depending on the place and time the law is being enforced. The style discussed for Black most often is penal law, and this occurs when a group, representing the law, goes up against an offender. Concerning social power and social life, Black researched five social dimensions of social life: stratification, morphology, culture, organization, and social control. Using these dimensions, he formed different opinions about the law and how it lies between intimacy and isolation in its relational distance.
In the end, Black has many different approaches and ways of looking at the law, but his end goal was to eliminate social factors from the behavior of the law. Lastly, Chambliss & Seidman analyzed power through what they called, “Law, Order, and Power. ” The view of this theory on the criminal justice system was an analysis on the conflict of power within the state and whether it was a peaceful process or one of perpetual conflict. Their view was that the group with the most power, in the end, had the greatest amount of views reflected in the laws being made.
So what they have to do with social power is that in their analysis of the system, in the end, they concluded that the laws representation of the public interest, is only representative of interests lined up with the group in power. So you can see from all those different perspectives on social power, it is a very diverse group of opinions, and is divided along the two perspectives of Conflict and Marxism. Now with all this theorizing, you need to test out the actual application of such theories.
Conflict theory and its view of how the system of power is an ever-shifting one, runs into a wall when it claims to be the only reasonable explanation for crime. The problem in testing conflict criminology lies in the fact that it is not the only explanation presented. Looking at “macro level threat theory” is another explanation of minority conflict, and how as the threat posed by the minority grows in power, so too do the law enforcement systems keeping them in check.
So in testing conflict theory, you can prove it through broad patterns in crime that are consistent with the theories predictions, but this proves association and not direct causation. According to Vold, conflict theory is limited in its explanation for impulsive and irrational crime. Conflict theory combines people into competing interest groups with similar values, however, an act of impulsivity is an individual act that is counter to that of being organized.
Additionally, conflict theory is talked about in the book as being limited in its view of social conflict as it tells you the symptoms of classing groups but not the problem. Marxism addresses this as the problem being capitalism, perpetuating a system of conflict. Lastly is Post-Modernism, the belief in “appreciative realism” which treats all language as being of equal validity as it believes that language controls all thinking and knowledge. Now when Post-Modernism addresses dominion at the root of both violence and punishment, it is addressing the dominion of the social institutions over individuals.
It is believed is that the official language of the institutions, like legalese, perpetuates violence and punishment through its oppression of the language of the individual, a convict. It’s because of this oppressive and demeaning official language in courts that individual punishment and the cycle of violence continues. In order to stop the oppression, all language needs to be seen as equal and legitimate. In doing this you would legitimize the role of the individual in a society of less violence and reduce the victimization of others.
Discuss the implications of “neoliberalism” for criminal justice policy and race relations in the US, according to Wacquant. What is “neoliberalism” and what are its philosophical approaches to government? Neoliberalism is the governing philosophy of “small governance” and that the government should be very lean and beneficial to free market enterprise. To accomplish this neoliberalism pushes investing in human capital to achieve economic success. Done through stressing individual responsibility, self-reliance, and most importantly, the need for less government intervention in society.
Wacquant establishes four institutional logics of neoliberalism: economic deregulation, retraction of the welfare state, pushing individual responsibility, and an ever expansive penal apparatus. When discussing criminal justice policy, Wacquant believes that neoliberalism is detrimental to society and that mass incarceration plays a critical role in maintaining power within this philosophy of governance. Involved in this is the passage of laws empowering coercive policing tactics, such as anti-picketing rules, and the use of this oppression to support corporate power in society.
The laws are designed in neoliberalism to make it so the middle class and above have economic freedom, and those who are the poorest in society suffer the most repressive governance. Law enforcement policy is designed to empower the powerful and shut down any opposition to the power of corporations. How this all plays into race relations is the creation and continuation of what Wacquant terms hyper-ghettos, and how the neoliberal policies of market deregulation, welfare entrenchment, and massive penal systems promote mass povertization and repression among African Americans.
The proletariat in society, in this case, being predominately minority, are pushed down by the system in order to keep an economic status quo for the bourgeoisie. Through a massive capitalistic push, criminal justice policies, and race relations are used as tools of control for those in the lowest tier of society. Neoliberalism is viewed by Wacquant as the catalyst for this societal reaction in which the government is made smaller in order to limit its controls over the more powerful in society like corporations, and less in the way of the powerful taking over it.
Law enforcement is now a tool used by capitalism to incarcerate those in society viewed as problematic and enforce the systems which concentrate power. Why this so adversely hurts minorities is because of their predominantly lower class status in society. The concentration of so much poverty among African Americans, for example, makes them adversely affected by neoliberal policies as it emphasizes self-reliance while using law enforcement to contain and control them. In the end, Wacquant says neoliberalism is constitutively corrosive of democracy, and poverty is penalized through its criminalization.